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Dr. Olav Rueppell

Photo of Dr. Olav Rueppell.

Dr. Olav Rueppell (Biology) received a nearly $1 million grant from the USDA NIFA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative for the project “Identification Of Brood Signals That Induce Hygienic Behavior In Honey Bees To Develop And Implement Novel Strategies For Varroa Control And Sustainable Apiculture.”
Honey bees (Apis mellifera) are important pollinators, critical for sustainable agriculture and food security. Declining health has lead to unprecedented honey bee colony losses. The ectoparasitic Varroa destructor mite plays a central role in the health decline and novel control solutions are needed. Hygienic behavior that honey bee workers exhibit toward mite-infected brood is a natural defense mechanism that provides Varroa resistance when sufficiently enhanced. Thus, in response to the program area priority “New Frontiers in Pollinator Health: From Research to Application,” the researchers propose to investigate the stimuli that stimulate hygienic behavior, specifically its initial stage (the uncapping of brood cells), and combine that research with extension activities to promote selective breeding for hygienic behavior as a sustainable apicultural practice.
Using bioassay-guided fractionation, the researchers will systematically study the Varroa-induced changes in surface chemicals of honey bee brood that trigger hygienic uncapping behavior. This approach will be paralleled by electrophysiological recordings to identify compounds that can elicit a neurophysiological response in honey bees. Bioactive compounds will be chemically identified and synthesized.
The researchers will test select candidate substances (one of which they have recently discovered) to their capacity to elicit hygienic behavior. Based on those findings, a selection assay will be developed and tested to improve the acceptance and success of selective breeding for hygienic honey bees. Also, the researchers will examine whether in-hive application of triggers for hygienic uncapping behavior presents a non-toxic treatment strategy to suppress Varroa mite population growth.
The two latter objectives will be pursued in collaboration with beekeepers, ensuring a high degree of engagement among researchers and stakeholders and direct knowledge transfer. For information transfer on a broader scale, the researchers will develop education materials for beekeepers and queen breeders, and train existing extension specialists in the use of our newly developed tools and strategies to complement ongoing programs to help the honey bee industry in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Updated April 28 with additional information.