Genetic Selection Process

The following are a few random thoughts that I have about queen genetics just to give my customers a sense of what to expect.

Frankly, selecting for good genetics is not an exact science. For example, daughters may not carry the desired traits of the mother. When open mating is being used, even if the area is flooded with desired drones, there is no guarantee that a drone from a neighboring NZ package will not be in the right place at the right time to donate some genetics. Diversity is essential in any selection process which means that I cannot continually use the same favorite queens but introducing new genetics periodically might result in either much desired hybrid vigor, or all the worst traits of both lines. Therefore, the only way forward is to continually select for the two or three traits I am looking for, while periodically introducing diversity. Progress is not always in a straight line, but more like two steps forward and one step back.

I do not believe that genetic selection should focus on just one trait but focusing on too many traits leaves no real focus at all, and therefore a program probably won’t accomplish its goals to significant degree. I keep extensive records on many distinct aspects of my own queens but use rapid buildup and mite resistance as the main criteria for selecting queens. Keep in mind, that there is always a tradeoff whenever you select for a trait. For example, if you encourage colonies that reduce brood dramatically when in a dearth period, the end result might be that they don’t eat as much because the colony is smaller, but the tradeoff is that the smaller colony is less able to fend off wasps in the fall.

The theory behind using local stock makes a lot of sense. The reality may or may not. Getting queens from NZ for instance might be a recipe for failure. Not because they are from another country but because they are probably not selected to suit your area’s climate and resources. So, I am comfortable importing queens provided by respected nonlocal queen rearing operations to use for making up early nucs if I don’t have any over wintered queens available, and if the genetics are compatible with the area they will end up in. Typically, queens available from May onwards are produced and mated on Salt Spring Island.

I want to have the confidence that my queens are well mated, and to that end, it is important to wait for her to have capped brood. On Salt Spring Island, the first opportunity to reliably mate queens is at the end of April, so I have to wait at least 10-14 days after that to evaluate the queen properly. That means I would not normally be able to supply beekeepers who might prefer April nucs. I have gotten around this problem by using young, wintered queens mated in the previous summer. This way, I have plenty of time to evaluate her performance, but she has never gone through a spring buildup that would age her.

Lastly, good genetics is no match for care and attention in rearing queens. I would rather have a well mated queen with mediocre genetics and good nutrition from an early age than a poorly fed or poorly mated queen with good genetics.