While honey bee populations dwindle across the globe, Penn State researchers aim to use communication technologies to spread revolutionary beekeeping techniques that will help offset the effects of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

CCD is an epidemic that started making headlines in 2006 when beekeepers began reporting unusual losses of 30-90 percent of their hives. Even before this phenomenon gained international attention, the number of domesticated honey bee colonies in Pennsylvania dropped from 80,000 to 30,000 in just 20 years. These sizable losses decreased the in-state production of honey by more than 2 million pounds annually – and if the trend continues, it could threaten the stability of $60 million worth of Pennsylvania’s bee-dependent agriculture.

Christina Grozinger, associate professor of entomology at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, is just one of the many local beekeeping experts creating solutions to CCD. Recently, Grozinger and her colleagues shared their methods in the annual Queen Rearing Workshop at the Arthropod Research Facility.

“The goal is to train a network of beekeepers who are capable of rearing their own queens, who also can participate in the stock evaluation program and the breeding program. Once they become familiar with these techniques then they can start educating the rest of the beekeeping community through various online resources,” explained Grozinger. “By utilizing online networking opportunities, there is no limit to how many beekeepers we can connect with.”

At the workshop, 12 beekeepers learned how to selectively breed queen bees that have desirable resistances to pests, parasites and harsh winter conditions. By using these experimental green methods, beekeepers can reduce or eliminate the application of pesticides that are used to combat common parasites. This is ideal not only because the pesticides are toxic to the honey bees, but because many of the parasites have become immune to the pesticides and antibiotics that once kept them at bay.

Grozinger believes that if more beekeepers learn to practice these groundbreaking strategies, then perhaps “this dark age of beekeeping” could finally come to an end. Unfortunately, the hands-on nature of the Queen Bee Rearing Workshops limits the amount of beekeepers who can participate.

These concerns are driving her interest in future applications of podcasts, educational videos and social networking sites like Facebook to create an enlightened network of beekeepers that can continue to spread, expand and provide feedback on these techniques.