4. Selection tools

The goal of beekeeping is to produce many quality products and pollination services with maximum efficiency. An important factor in achieving this goal is genetic improvement in terms of economic, behavioural and adaptive traits of honey bees. Genetic improvement is achieved with selection (Falconer and Mackay, 1996). The rate of improvement is directly linked to accuracy with which queens are ranked based on their breeding value, the intensity with which they are selected, the amount of genetic variation available in the traits and generation interval. All of these issues are part of the breeding programme.

The standardization of performance testing as described in Section 3.3. is a necessary prerequisite for successful breeding. The results will indicate differences between individual colonies that can be utilized for improvement, but these data alone are insufficient. The environment varies greatly between and within apiaries and test stations, and the traits measured are strongly affected by these environmental effects. Only the hereditary disposition is significant in breeding, as only the hereditary disposition (genes) of the animals influence the quality of the offspring. The environmental conditions under which the colonies live unfortunately mask or influence their hereditary properties (breeding value). A breeding programme therefore requires a breeding value or selection index in order to choose which queens to reproduce, according to the aims of the breeding programme.

There are several instruments available for separating the environmental effects of colony performance from genetic disposition. The most sophisticated and accurate method for calculating a selection index is a statistical model called the “BLUP (Best Linear Unbiased Prediction) Animal Model” (Henderson, 1988), which was modified for use in honey bee breeding programmes by Bienefeld et al. (2007) (described in section 4.1). However, for small scale breeding programmes, simpler indicators may be used (section 4.2).

4.3. Molecular selection tools