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High accuracy monitoring of honey bee colony development by a quantitative method

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  • Nuno Capela
  • Yoko Luise Dupont
  • Agnes Rortais, EFSA, European Food Safety Authority, Italy
  • Arthur Sarmento, University of Coimbra, Portugal
  • Alexandra Papanikolaou, EFSA, European Food Safety Authority, Italy
  • Christopher John Topping
  • Gérard Arnold, The French National Centre for Scientific Research, France
  • M. Alice Pinto, Mountain Research Centre (CIMO), Polytechnic Institute of Braganca, Portugal
  • Pedro J. Rodrigues, Polytechnic Institute of Bragança, Portugal
  • Simon J. More, University College Dublin, Ireland
  • Simone Tosi, University of Turin, Italy
  • Thiago Alves, Polytechnic Institute of Bragança, Portugal
  • José Paulo Sousa, University of Coimbra, Portugal
Honey bees are key insect pollinators, providing important economic and ecological value for human beings and ecosystems. This has triggered the development of several monitoring methods for assessing the temporal development of colony size, food storage, brood and pathogens. Nonetheless, most of these methods are based on visual assessments that are observer-dependent and prone to bias. Furthermore, the impact on colony development (invasiveness), as well as accuracy, were rarely considered when implementing new methods. In this study, we present and test a novel accurate and observer-independent method for honey bee colony assessment, capable of being fully standardized. Honey bee colony size is quantified by assessing the weight of adult bees, while brood and provision are assessed by taking photos and conducting image analysis of the combs with the image analysis software Deepbee®. The invasiveness and accuracy of the method were investigated using field data from two experimental apiaries in Portugal, comparing results from test and control colonies. At the end of each field experiment, most of the tested colonies had the same colony size, brood levels and honey production as the control colonies. Nonetheless, continuous weight data indicated some disturbance in tested colonies in the first year of monitoring. The overall accuracy of the image analysis software was improved by training, indicating that it is possible to adapt the software to local conditions. We conclude that the use of this fully quantitative method offers a more accurate alternative to classic visual colony assessments, with negligible impact on colony development.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Apicultural Research
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Jul 2022

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