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Rapid measurement of the adult worker population size in honey bees

Abstract : Changes in agricultural practices have lead to pollination deficits in entomophilous crops, leading to a growing interest in supplementing farmlands with managed colonies of honey bee, Apis mellifera. However, the metrics of a colony as a pollination unit is controversial due to the wide range of adult population sizes encountered in a colony, especially in relation with the time of year and beekeeping management. Correctly measuring the number of adult honey bees per hive is critical for farmers to adjust the number of colonies they need to meet crop pollination demand. We tested a simple non-invasive method to estimate the adult worker population size of colonies based on common beekeeping handlings. This method consisted in counting the number of inter-frames covered with adult bees (called IFB thereafter) from above the hive body. Based on the monitoring of 181 colonies, we investigated the nature of the relation between IFB and the adult bee population size and its contextdependence to the meterological conditions and hive type. We then evaluated the possible improvement of the method with additional IFB counted in the supers and from below the hive body. Finally, we analysed the robustness of the method by comparing estimates obtained from colonies observed by experimented and naive observers. We revealed a clear-cut logarithmic relation between the IFB and the adult population size, covering the effects of meteorological conditions and hive type. The counting of IFB from above the hive body were particularly sensitive to meteorological conditions, unlike those counted from below the hive body. Moreover, the counting of additional IFB from the supers slightly improved the estimates of adult population size. Interestingly, no difference of estimate was detected between experimented and naive observers, suggesting applied simplicity of the method. The IFB counting method thus provides a simple, non-invasive and robust indicator of the adult population size of a managed honey bee colony. The counting of IFB from below the hive body should be recommend due to the sensitivity to meteorological conditions of the counting of IFB from above the hive body. Beyond crop pollination, we also highlighted application perspectives of this method as an indicator of survival probability. This method can therefore be viewed as a standard for routine field monitoring to help farmers to estimate rigorously the number of colonies they need to meet the crop pollination demand and (ii) to help beekeepers assessing the mortality risk of their colonies.
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https://hal.inrae.fr/hal-03113862
Contributor : Line Touloumet <>
Submitted on : Monday, January 18, 2021 - 4:04:29 PM
Last modification on : Thursday, May 6, 2021 - 10:50:06 AM

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Stan Chabert, Fabrice Requier, Joël Chadoeuf, Laurent Guilbaud, Nicolas Morison, et al.. Rapid measurement of the adult worker population size in honey bees. Ecological Indicators, Elsevier, 2021, 122, pp.107313. ⟨10.1016/j.ecolind.2020.107313⟩. ⟨hal-03113862⟩

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