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 > Apicolture: research


> Genetic improvement
> Pathology
> Product optimisation
> Economy and market
> Bees and environment

PROTECTION AND GENETIC IMPROVEMENT OF THE ITALIAN HONEYBEE Since its foundation, the CRA-API has been recognised as the official organisation committed to defending and promoting the Italian honeybee: Apis mellifera ligustica. This race represents a natural asset whose value for apiculture is recognised worldwide.
Protection and promotion efforts also focus on another race of honeybees, Apis mellifera sicula, traditionally bred in Sicily.

In this area the main lines of research are:
- Breeding and selection of queen bees of the race Apis mellifera ligustica, also by instrumental insemination of queen bees
- Comparative study among Apis mellifera ligustica populations and interracial hybrids.
- Biometric and genetic characterisation of bee populations present across Italy
- Study of the biodiversity of bee populations, with a view to preserving the biological and ethological characteristics of the subspecies Apis mellifera ligustica.

These activities are supported by an instrumental insemination laboratory (located in the operating unit in Reggio Emilia), where lines of particular genetic interest are preserved for the purpose of setting up specific selection schemes and providing beekeepers with an insemination service for the queen bees they produce.

Moreover, the CRA-API has been entrusted with keeping a national register of queen bee breeders, created by Decree no. 20984 of 10 March 1997 with the aim of defining technical guidelines for selection activity in the beekeeping sector. The Institute represents the scientific body of reference for this Register and is responsible for technical and organisational coordination of initiatives.

On a local level, the Institute promoted the creation of a register of Apis mellifera ligustica queen bee breeders for the region of Emilia Romagna (Regional Regulation no. 29 of 15/11/91) and today coordinates the related management and technical activities.


HEALTH CONTROL IN BEEKEEPING The Institute intends to define guidelines and methods for protecting health in the country’s beekeeping industry.

In particular, it pursues the following lines of research and experimentation:

- Development of methods to combat varroasis, essentially based on the use of acaricides of natural origin;
- Evaluation of prophylactic strategies against American foulbrood, based on the use of antimicrobial substances of natural origin and methods of prevention;
- Testing for residues of pharmacological substances in beehive products;
- Study of Varroa resistance to acaricides;
- Study of parasite tolerance mechanisms in bees for selection purposes;
- Monitoring of disease spread across Italian territory.



OPTIMISATION OF PRODUCTION The CRA-API has set up research programmes aimed at enhancing the quality of beehive products, honey in particular.

Research activities are thus focused on defining quality requirements, to be incorporated, where possible, within the regulatory framework established by domestic and international laws, which manifest a general trend toward a quest for quality. Quality is also to be pursued by labelling products with a protected geographical indication: for beekeepers this represents an essential tool for increasing both the prestige and profitability of their trade and for consumers it is an indispensable means by which to identify the best guaranteed products.

The lines of research pursued by the Institute are:
- Studies and trials whose aim is to characterise and qualify honey by defining botanical and geographical origins, with a view to improving quality;
- Analysis of beehive products (royal jelly, beeswax, pollen, propolis) to determine their composition
- Studies on the methods of storing beehive products and their possible deteriorations;
- Evaluation of food safety based on tests for the presence of residues of pesticides and veterinary drugs;
- Formulation of new chemical parameters which may be used to evaluate products;
- Development of modern methods of analysis.

For these purposes the CRA-API also takes part in national and international workgroups:
- the Codex Alimentarius Working Group;
- International Honey Commission;
- the UNI (Italian Organisation for Standardisation) workgroup for the standardisation of test methods for honey.


ECONOMIC AND MARKET STUDIES IN THE BEEKEEPING SECTOR Development of the beekeeping industry cannot be achieved without planning based on thorough knowledge of the economy and market. Conscious of the problems currently facing Italian apiculture, the Institute has included a careful analysis of these aspects in its research programmes.

Specifically, interest is focused on the following aspects:
- surveys conducted at all levels from production to consumption, to assess consumer demands and experiences;
- quality assessments based on individual attributes;
- determination of the factors that play a part in determining the price at which products are sold;
- relationship between quality and price;
- production aspects: quantities and costs;
- commercial aspects: quantities and trade channels.


BEES AND ENVIRONMENT: APOIDEA GROUP The CRA-API, in close partnership with the University of Bologna (Department of Agro-environmental Science and Technology – Entomology Section), has set up a research unit to study the interaction between bees and the environment: the Apoidea Group.

The Group conducts trials using an environmental biomonitoring technique based on a unique feature of honeybees: i.e. bees are like mobile sensors and can provide us with a huge amount of information regarding the state of health of the environment (in the photo: environmental monitoring station with collection traps for dead bees). But the INA has also launched intense research activities in the field of apidology: study of various types of bees, members of the superfamily Apoidea, which have immeasurable ecological importance given their role as pollinators.

This area specifically embraces the following aspects:
- Development of experimental protocols for environmental monitoring with honeybees: in rural environments to assure correct use of pesticides, in urban environments to detect pollution caused by traffic (heavy metals, PAHs), in specific environments to determine pollution caused by industrial processes, radionuclides, etc.
- Field application of biomonitoring techniques
- Study of biodiversity among pollinating insects (pollinators) in agricultural and protected areas
- Research on the biology of megachilids (family of solitary bees) aimed at defining guidelines for breeding and using them to pollinate crops where the honeybee is not the pollinator par excellence.
- Studies on the toxicity of pesticides for honeybees and other pollinators.
- Study of the possible relationships between bees and genetically modified plants.

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