The objective of this study was to assess the effectiveness of a cooperative breeding program designed to enhance winter survival of honey bees (Apis mellifera L.) when exposed to high levels of varroa (Varroa destructor Anderson and Trueman) in outdoor-wintered and indoor-wintered colonies. Half of the colonies from selected and unselected stocks were randomly assigned to be treated with late autumn oxalic acid treatment or to be left untreated. Colonies were then randomly assigned to be wintered either indoors (n = 37) or outdoors (n = 40). Late autumn treatment with oxalic acid did not improve wintering performance. However, genotype of bees affected colony survival and the proportion of commercially viable colonies in spring, as indicated by greater rates of colony survival and commercially viable colonies for selected stock (43% survived and 33% were viable) in comparison to unselected stock (19% survived and 9% were viable) across all treatment groups. Indoor wintering improved spring bee population score, proportion of colonies surviving, and proportion of commercially viable colonies relative to outdoor wintering (73% of selected stock and 41% of unselected stock survived during indoor wintering). Selected stock showed better “tolerance” to varroa as the selected stock also maintained higher bee populations relative to unselected stock. However, there was no evidence of “resistance” in selected colonies (reduced mite densities). Collectively, this experiment showed that breeding can improve tolerance to varroa and this can help minimize colony loss through winter and improve colony wintering performance. Overall, colony wintering success of both genotypes of bees was better when colonies were wintered indoors than when colonies were wintered outdoors.
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Vol. 108 • No. 4