BREAD: Sustainable Solutions for Preserving Pollinator Health in East Africa

Project: Research project

Project Details


PI: James H. Tumlinson (Pennsylvania State University)

Co-PIs: James L. Frazier, Maryann Frazier, Christina M. Grozinger, and Harland M. Patch (Pennsylvania State University)

Collaborators: Daniel Masiga (African Insect Science for Food and Health, Kenya), Elliud Muli (African Insect Science for Food and Health, Kenya)

Insect pollination is an essential component of both ecosystems and agricultural production systems worldwide. The honeybee species Apis mellifera is considered the most important generalist pollinator of agricultural systems and, although poorly documented, is also known to be an important pollinator of natural ecosystems. In Africa, native honey bees (Apis mellifera) of several different races are reportedly responsible for pollinating 40-70% of indigenous plants, some of which are important commercial crops. Dramatic declines in honey bee populations have been documented around the world and the recently named Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has been identified as an important player responsible for these dramatic loses. Despite intensive research efforts, the causes of CCD have not been identified.

Factors identified as the most likely contributors to CCD and the decline of honey bee populations include Varroa mites (Varroa destructor), diseases, particularly viruses vectored by Varroa, pesticide exposure, and stresses associated with modern beekeeping practices like the movement of hives and poor nutrition. CCD has not been reported in Africa, yet recently the existence of Varroa mites in honey bee colonies in Kenya was discovered. Bee keepers in East Africa had not noticed the mites, and their effect on the East African bees is not clear. This project will provide a detailed survey of geographically distributed subspecies of native honey bees in Kenya, and characterize the distribution of Varroa, as well as other pathogens which have important impacts on colony health. Additionally the project will determine if Varroa loads are associated with reduced colony productivity and variation in specific behavioral traits in bees. The factors that mediate the interactions of Varroa mites with honey bees are very poorly understood and little is known about the mechanisms that allow bees to resist or tolerate the mites. The results of this pilot project will lay the groundwork for years of future studies to elucidate the factors and mechanisms that will allow sustainable management of honey bees and protection from mites and other diseases.

Broader Impacts: Along with the potential for enhanced income to beekeepers and smallholder farmers through active participation in regional cooperatives, the successes in Kenya may well serve as a model approach for similar efforts in neighboring countries in both East and West equatorial Africa. The outcomes of this research project may offer new approaches for bee breeding, potentially including transgenics, for use in agriculture in the developed world. With a permanent collaborative program on pollinator health at ICIPE and PSU, longer term consequences will undoubtedly involve further understanding of other honey bee diseases and mechanisms of resistance, and eventually pollinator community level interactions and their roles in stabilizing ecosystems. The results and methodology from this project will be broadly disseminated to the public and honey bee community in the US and East Africa through public repositories (such as GenBank for subspecies sequence information) and the websites for both ICIPE ( and the Center for Pollinator Research at Penn State ( This project will be used in the future as a platform for undergraduate and graduate training of both African and US students, including active exchanges between institutions.

Effective start/end date4/1/103/31/14


  • National Science Foundation: $599,598.00


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