Didactic Apiary

Honeybees (Apis mellifera L.) provide a multitude of products useful for human consumption, such as honey, pollen, royal jelly, wax and propolis [1], but they also play an essential role for natural and agricultural ecosystems, since the maintenance of wild plant populations and biodiversity, as well as the production of most cultivated plants, depend on the activity of pollinating insects [2,3].


However, honeybees, like other pollinating insects, are necessary not only to allow the fertilization and the formation of seeds and fruits, but also to increase productivity and improve the fruit yield and quality in numerous highly valuable crops [4].


Nowadays, pollination systems are increasingly threatened by direct and indirect impacts related to human activities, including habitat fragmentation, land use changes, monocultural agronomic practices, use of pesticides and biocides [4]. Indeed, the pollinators decline is associated with a wide range of environmental and anthropogenic pressures that often act synergistically, such as habitat destruction, degradation and fragmentation, physical and chemical pollution, climate change and the spread of invasive alien species, parasites and pathogens [5,6]. In this context, honeybees represent an important bioindicator to monitor the environment for pollution due to urbanization, agricultural and industrial activities, as well as the occurrence of climate fluctuations and the presence of pathogens that can negatively impact on human, animal, and plants health [7].


Beekeeping is an activity with minimal environmental impact, it offers employment and income opportunities in rural and marginal areas [8], but above all it plays a key role in safeguarding an insect that guarantees fundamental ecosystem services [9].


A marked increase in research activities regarding beekeeping has been observed in recent years, but many aspects that can have a major impact on honeybee health and well-being still need to be investigated. In particular, the beekeeping management practices play a fundamental role in maintaining a good level of health and productivity in the colonies and it is now consolidated that good management can alleviate the stress induced to honeybees by multiple factors such as adverse climatic conditions, scarcity of resources and reduction of plant biodiversity, and spread of pathologies [10,11].

The direct and/or indirect role of beekeepers in preserving health and welfare of honeybees and improving hive productivity has been highlighted in several national and international projects [12-14].


Indeed, type and timing of supplementary feed administration, type and frequency of anti-varroa treatments, status of the queen, wintering management strategies are only some examples of the multiplicity of factors controlled by the beekeeper that can have a great impact on the welfare and productivity of the colonies [10].


Thus, improving knowledge regarding the influence of bee management practices to honeybee colonies can support the development of suitable strategies for the assessment and management of bee health. The application of remote monitoring systems combined with probes and electronic devices can also help the data recording process and improve quantity and quality of information to evaluate health and welfare of bee colonies [15].

The first decision that the beekeeper takes, and which has important effects on the well-being of the bees, is the choice of the type of hive.


Recently, alternative solutions to the classic wooden hives model Langstroth and Dadant-Blatt have been developed and proposed on the market. For example, the use of polystyrene or composite insulation hives seems to guarantee better microclimatic conditions (temperature and humidity) than those made of wood [11], especially during the cold season [16].


However, few validated information is available in the scientific literature regarding the effect of the type of hive, and the material of which it is made, on the development of the colony, the incidence of pathologies and the productivity of the colonies.


Inside the hive, the temperature must be kept within a very narrow range (34-35°C). Values outside this range represent a risk for the survival of the brood, can cause an increase in the incidence of wing malformations and prevent the development of adequate learning skills and diseases resistance [17-19].


Bees have a strong thermoregulation capacity, both at individual and community level [20], but the heating and cooling of the hive, through the increase of muscle activity and ventilation, respectively, require a considerable effort from a large part of adult bees and involve the consumption of high quantities of food resources.


A hive sufficiently insulated and capable of mitigating the effect of external climatic variations on the temperature and humidity inside the hive could make the thermoregulation mechanisms implemented by bees more efficient, reduce the consumption of food, reduce stress and mortality, as well as increase the productivity of the colony.


In the apiary of the department DAFNAE, bees are raised testing different types of hives and applying different bee management practices to develop and validate the most suitable strategies to safeguard their health and well-being and improve the productivity of the colony.


During the visits, students and other guests acquire knowledge about the biology and behaviour of honeybees; learn to recognize the products of the hive and the harvesting techniques; see innovative technological applications for monitoring and evaluating the health and productivity of beehives.


Crane, E. 2004. A short history of knowledge about honey bees (Apis) up to 1800. Bee World 85, 6–11. https://doi.org/10.1080/0005772X.2004.11099604
– Ashman, T.L., Knight, T.M., Steets, J.A., Amarasekare, P., Burd, M., Campbell, D.R., Dudash, M.R., Johnston, M.O., Mazer, S.J., Mitchell, R.J., Morgan, M.T., Wilson, W.G. 2004. Pollen limitation of plant reproduction: ecological and evolutionary causes and consequences. Ecology 85, 2408–2421. https://doi.org/10.1890/03-8024
– Bommarco, R., Marini, L., Vaissière, B.E. 2012. Insect pollination enhances seed yield, quality, and market value in oilseed rape. Oecologia 169, 1025–1032. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-012-2271-6
– Bellucci, V., Piotto, B., Silli, V. 2021. Piante e insetti impollinatori: un’alleanza per la biodiversità. ISPRA, Serie Rapporti, 350/2021. pp. 161. Available online: https://www.isprambiente.gov.it/it/pubblicazioni
– Vanbergen, A.J., Insect Pollinators Initiative. 2013. Threats to an ecosystem service: pressures on pollinators. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 11, 251-259. https://doi.org/10.1890/120126
– Goulson, D. 2019. The insect apocalypse, and why it matters. Current Biology 29, 967-971. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2019.06.069 – Cunningham, M.M., Tran, L., McKee, C.G., Polo, R.O., Newman, T., Lansing, L., Griffiths, J.S., Bilodeau, G.J., Rott, M., Guarna, M.M. 2022. Honey bees as biomonitors of environmental contaminants, pathogens, and climate change. Ecological Indicators 134, 108457. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2021.108457
– Ritter, W., Akratanakul, P. 2006. Honey bee diseases and pests: A practical guide. FAO, Rome. Italy. vol. 4. Available online: https://www.fao.org/publications/card/es/c/3c652500-3a8e-5d19-bfb4-9bc165c36271/
– El Agrebi, N., Steinhauer, N., Tosi, S., Leinartz, L., de Graaf, D.C., Saegerman, C. 2021. Risk and protective indicators of beekeeping management practices. Science of the Total Environment 799-14381. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.149381
– Sperandio, G., Simonetto, A., Carnesecchi, E., Costa, C., Hatjina, F., Tosi, S., Gilioli, G. 2019. Beekeeping and honey bee colony health: A review and conceptualization of beekeeping management practices implemented in Europe. Science of the Total Environment 696-133795. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.133795 – Erdogan, Y. 2019. Comparison of colony performances of honeybee (Apis Mellifera L.) housed in hives made of different materials. Italian Journal of Animal Science 18, 934-940. https://doi.org/10.1080/1828051X.2019.1604088
– Porrini, C., Mutinelli, F., Bortolotti, L., Granato, A., Laurenson, L., Roberts, K., Gallina, A., Silvester, N., Medrzycki, P., Renzi, T., Sgolastra, F., Lodesani, M. 2016. The status of honey bee health in Italy: results from the nationwide bee monitoring network. PLoS One 11, e0155411. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0155411
– Chauzat, M.P., Jacques, A., Laurent, M., Bougeard, S., Hendrikx, P., Ribière-Chabert, M., EPILOBEE Consortium. 2016. Risk indicators affecting honeybee colony survival in Europe: one year of surveillance. Apidologie 47, 348–378. https://doi.org/10.1007/ s13592-016-0440-z
– Gray, A., Brodschneider, R., Adjlane, N., Ballis, A., Brusbardis, V., Charrière, J.-D., Chlebo, R., Coffey, M., F., Cornelissen, B., Amaro da Costa, C., Csáki, T., Dahle, B., Danihlík, J., Dražić, M.M., Evans, G., Fedoriak, M., Forsythe, I., de Graaf, D., Gregorc, A., Johannesen, J., Kauko, L., Kristiansen, P., Martikkala, M., Martín-Hernández, R., Medina-Flores, C.A., Mutinelli, F., Patalano, S., Petrov, P., Raudmets, A., Ryzhikov, V.A., Simon-Delso, N., Stevanovic, J., Topolska, G., Uzunov, A., Vejsnaes, F., Williams, A., Zammit-Mangion, M., Soroker, V. 2019. Loss rates of honey bee colonies during winter 2017/18 in 36 countries participating in the COLOSS survey, including effects of forage sources. Journal of Apicultural Research 58, 479–485. https://doi.org/10.1080/00218839.2019.1615661
– Flores, J.M., Gil-Lebrero, S., Gámiz, V., Rodríguez, M.I., Ortiz, M.A., Quiles, F.J. 2019. Effect of the climate change on honey bee colonies in a temperate Mediterranean zone assessed through remote hive weight monitoring system in conjunction with exhaustive colonies assessment. Science of the Total Environment 653, 1111-1119. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.11.004 – Alburaki, M., Corona, M. 2021. Polyurethane honey bee hives provide better winter insulation than wooden hives. Journal of Apicultural Research 61, 190 196. https://doi.org/10.1080/00218839.2021.1999578
– Tautz, J., Maier, S., Groh, C., Rossler, W., Brockmann, A. 2003. Behavioral performance in adult honey bees is influenced by the temperature experienced during their pupal development. PNAS 100, 7343–7347. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1232346100
– Groh, C., Tautz, J., Rossler, W. 2004. Synaptic organization in the adult honey bee brain is influenced by brood-temperature control during pupal development. PNAS, 101, 4268–4273. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0400773101
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