Bee health

Van Hall Larenstein is a partner in the national bee strategy

Bees are enormously important in (agricultural) ecosystems for the pollination of crops and wild plants. When hearing the word ‘bee’, many people think of ingenious honeybees, which, besides producing honey, can also be used as pollinators in fruit-growing, for example, and in seed production. However, there are many more bee species that are easily overlooked, but which are just as important. Bumblebees, for instance, are important pollinators in the wild, but they can also be used in greenhouses in tomato production. Furthermore, the Netherlands has hundreds of other solitary bee species that provide pollination for a large number of plant species, together with bumblebees and honeybees. They are therefore very important for the preservation of biodiversity.

The applied research group for bee health was established for a six-year period (2015-2021) and is committed to the well-being of all bee species in the Netherlands. Via national and international partnerships, research is conducted into the beekeepers’ practice and the Varroa mite, the problems for all bees, pollinators and insects in general and the landscape. The connecting role between NGOs, research institutions, land management organisations, beekeepers’ organisations and the agrarian sector plays a central part. On 22 January 2018, Van Hall Larenstein signed the Dutch National Bee strategy and is thereby a partner in this strategy.

About the professor

Frens Pries graduated from the University of Groningen following his work on the molecular-biological analysis of a bacterial enzyme that can break down pollutants. In addition, he gained a great deal of experience as a postdoc researcher into viruses. In 2001, he became a lecturer in biochemistry at the University of Life Sciences and Chemistry in Alkmaar, which subsequently became part of the Inholland University of Applied Sciences. Since 2013, he has been involved in bee health, focusing on viruses in bees and the genetics of honey bees, and toxic substances in bee products such as honey and wax. He works with companies, seed breeders, foundations and bee-keeping associations. Since 1 January 2019, Frens Pries has also been professor for ‘the sustainable pollination of crops’ at Inholland.

Professor Frens Pries

Mission

It is known that honey bees produce honey, but this alone does not make this ingenious insect the number three of important farm animals. The honey bee is an important pollinator of crops and wild plants and is indispensable in agricultural ecosystems and in closed growing systems. Bumblebees and solitary bees are also important in supplying pollination in open cultivation as an ecosystem service. The applied research group of bee health is committed to the well-being of all bees; honey bees, bumblebees and solitary bees, both kept and living in the wild.
(Source: The Buzz about Bees, J Tautz and H Heilmann, Springer, Heidelberg 2008)

Objective

The objective of the applied research group of bee Health is twofold:

  • Professionalising and innovating beekeeping
  • Improving the habitat for all bee species, mainly by promoting melliferous plants and by encouraging bee-friendly green management. 

By combining the applied research group of ‘bee health’ with the research line ‘sustainable pollination of crops’, more room will be created for research questions that exist in bee-keeping. (Professional) bee-keepers face major problems when it comes to bee health, while the food supply largely depends on pollination by honey bees. The deployment of honey bees and ensuring proper living conditions are essential elements of pollination.

What do we do?

  • Interreg B-RAP: a project in the Eems Dollart region, where the University of Oldenburg and Van Hall Larenstein in cooperation with the Netherlands Centre for Bee Research, Ökowerk Emden and IMME Bourtanger Moor cooperate in a unique social awareness project. In this context, a symposium was organised on 22 September, entitled 'Turn the tide for the bee'.
  • RAAK-PRO Sustainable Varroa management:  in this project, research is carried out into suppressing Varroa mites through bee behaviour. To this end, Varroa-sensitive hygiene behaviour is studied in selected bee lines and the genetic background is researched. If all honey bees are Varroa-resistant, they will be contaminated less frequently with diseases, and bee-keeping will become more sustainable and simpler.
    Publication: Article in BijenHouden, No. 4 - 'Sustainable suppression of the Varroa mite in Dutch beekeeping' (Dutch publication)
  • Together for bees: the aim is to develop knowledge that is lacking and to disseminate information on the reinforcement of biodiversity for the benefit of (wild) pollinators.

Applied research Group

Within the organisation of the university, there is cooperation with other applied research groups, including Meadow Birds, Sustainable Dairy Farming, Food, Health and Safety and Urban Agriculture as an urban design task.
The applied research group engages in permanent cooperation with the following Dutch training programmes:

Various people from other applied science universities are active within the applied research group for bee health. They work jointly on the challenges set by the applied research group. You will find a non-exhaustive list below:

  • Marcel Rekers - Van Hall Larenstein Leeuwarden
  • Truus Rigter - Van Hall Larenstein Leeuwarden
  • Miriam Velter - Nordwin
  • Wim van Grasstek - BD-imkers
  • Karin van Dueren den Hollander - HAS
  • Linda Abbing - Helicon

The situation is not only dire for (honey) bees; there is also a massive decline in all (pollinating) insects. This requires a wider-ranging approach. By broadening research within the applied research group of ‘bee health’ with this associate applied research group, Van Hall Larenstein will be able to focus more on improving the landscape for all insects, including bees and honey bees.

Associate applied research group 'Bees and biodiversity'

The situation is not only dire for (honey) bees; there is also a massive decline in all (pollinating) insects. This requires a wider-ranging approach. By broadening research within the applied research group of ‘bee health’ with this associate applied research group, Van Hall Larenstein will be able to focus more on improving the landscape for all insects, including bees and honey bees.

About the associate professor

Arjen Strijkstra has a doctorate in biology and has involved himself with the behavioural psychology of a wide variety of living creatures, including people. Besides being an associate professor, Arjen is also a lecturer in Wildlife Management on the animal management study programme at Van Hall Larenstein. He conducts research into wild bees and honey bees and their relationship with humans together with his students. ‘Bees’ represent a broad field of interest to Arjen, ranging from beekeepers’ practice as well as awareness among people to making the urban and agricultural landscape more insect-friendly.

Associate professor Arjen Strijkstra