Beekeeping and pollination

The honeybee is recognised as an important insect for the economy thanks to the products created by its activities (honey, pollen, royal jelly etc.) and for its beneficial role in agriculture as a pollinator. In fact, the honeybee plays a large role in maintaining the biodiversity of plant ecosystems, particularly wild flora. Recent studies have highlighted the global phenomenon of a decline in wild bee and honeybee populations. ACTA and ITSAP-Institut de l’abeille (bee institute) are conducting applied research to halt this decline and meet the expectations of the beekeeping sector.

UMT PrADE, collaborative research to strengthen the protection of bees in the environment

Since late 2009, ACTA has been coordinating the mixed technology unit PrADE (its name is drawn from the French for protecting bees in the environment), which brings together teams from INRA UR-406 (bees and the environment), ITSAP-Institut de l’abeille and ADAPI (a Provencal association for developing beekeeping). The team is seeking to integrate knowledge for the protection of bees in agricultural systems.

Increasing knowledge about bees’ food resources

Two articles from the UMT PrADE, published in 2013, have improved our knowledge on bees’ diets. This knowledge is being integrated into the design of agroecological measures based on landscape management for enhancing the trophic resources available to bees.

These publications report on the work of Garance Di Pasquale and Orianne Rollin, PhD students enjoying an industry convention for training through research (known by its French initials CIFRE) between ACTA and INRA UR 406. Their scientific work employs different but complementary approaches: one examines the health of laboratory-bred honeybees, while the other makes an inventory in arable crop areas of wild and honeybees on different flowering plant covers. Di Pasquale et al. (2013) tested the influence of the quality and diversity of pollen diet on the health of honeybees by subjecting them to different monofloral diets (rock-rose, heather, chestnut and blackberry) of variable nutritional qualities, or polyfloral diets comprising four pollens. This work has shown that the quality and the diversity of pollen are important to bee survival when subject to stresses such as Nosema ceranae. Therefore, the availability of different floral resources appears to be very important in compensating for lower nutritional quality (and the limited influence of certain pollens) and thereby improving the pest tolerance of bees.

“Improving the quality, the regularity of nectar and the pollen available, is beneficial for wild and honeybees.” 

Rollin et al. (2013) conducted inventories of the fauna on flower cover in arable cropping areas (Plain and Val de Sèvre, department 79) between April and August from 2010 to 2012. This involved capturing and identifying the species of almost 30,000 bees foraging on flowers and more than 800 plant cover sites.

These bees were classified into three groups: honeybees, wild bees and bumblebees. Wild bees preferred foraging in wild meadow flowers and borders rather than in oilseed rape or sunflower (see below). For example, bee diversity in oilseed rape was four times lower than that measured in natural herbaceous flora. In contrast, bumblebees were more present on the flowers of oilseed crops than on other flowering plant cover, though in a less marked fashion than honeybees. 

Figure Frequency (top) and abundance (bottom) of pollinators on different flowering plant cover. Honeybees, and to a lesser extent bumblebees, prefer foraging in the flowers of oilseed rape and sunflower rather than in wild flowers in fields and borders, while the opposite is true in wild bees (Decourtye et al., 2013; Rollin et al., 2013).

Integrating knowledge to provide agri-environmental measures

With our new knowledge about bees’ feeding habits (Di Pasquale et al., 2013; Rollin et al., 2013), we have designed agro-ecological measures to improve food supplies in the arable cropping areas of Plaine and Val de Sèvre (Decourtye et al. 2013a, 2013b). Our levers to increase the availability of nectar and pollen are Surfaces of Ecological Interest (known by their French initials SIE), catch crops and crop rotation. For SIE, hedges based on woody species of interest (field maple, dogwood, wayfarer, chequer tree and privet) should be accompanied by fallow land, or flower strips on field edges, planted in the autumn with a mixture based on alsike clover, buckwheat, hop clover, sainfoin, birdsfoot trefoil and phacelia. Fallow can be crushed once sunflowers come into flower in order to provide a second late-season flowering. But the most effective measures for bees combine the SIE with the introduction of new crops and intercropping, introducing nectar and pollen plants in arable land, such as the production of lucerne (two years seed-bearing and one year forage), hemp or buckwheat as an intermediate crop.

Contact : (coordinator of UMT PrADE)

ITSAP-Institut de l’abeille: applied research in the service of beekeeping

ITSAP (the name derives from the French acronym for the technical and scientific institute of beekeeping and pollination) has the objective of contributing to the development of beekeeping through experimentation, applied research, technical and economic assistance, coordination, dissemination and training. In combination with ACTA, it leads actions selected by those involved in professional beekeeping. Its work reflects the expectations and major concerns in the field.


DEPHY-Abeille: Establishing a network of innovative arable cropping systems which use less pesticide and are favourable to bees 

For all nectar and pollen producing crops, there is a benefit/risk ratio between the food resources they offer to bees (quality and quantity) and contamination of this resource by pesticides. With a better understanding of this ratio we can evaluate the risk of bee exposure according to the attractiveness of a target crop.

Through the Polinov project (2010-2012), led by ACTA, ITSAP worked on the design and evaluation (according to expert opinion) of innovative cropping systems a priori favourable to bees and compatible with a plain-based cereal agroecosystem, in this case the Plaine and Val de Sèvre Workshop Zone coordinated by CNRS in Chizé. With the DEPHY-Abeille project, the institute tested on the ground the impact of changes in agricultural production systems on honeybee colony behaviour, by setting up experiments in close collaboration with local stakeholders.

“Conducting experiments with local stakeholders” 

The main objective of the DEPHY-Abeille project, which began in 2013, is to reduce the use of pesticides in cereal production, taking into account the protection of bees (favouring nectar and pollen producing flora, reducing the risk of poisoning) in the innovative system design process (foraging range, toxicity of pesticides for these insects, foraging strategy) and in the evaluation of system performance.

The ITSAP-Institut de l’abeille, as coordinator of the project, is particularly involved in the component addressing the co-construction of crop systems favourable to pollinators. This component integrates the analysis of farmers’ practices, modelling to support local actors and the implementation and monitoring of experiments on farms.

In the first phase, individual interviews were conducted in 2013 with local stakeholders on the issue of bees in the area (professional and amateur beekeepers, cereal producers, farmers with mixed crop and livestock systems, and municipal and regional councillors). These interviews made it possible to identify the relatively narrow vision which most actors have of their territory, other actors, available resources and their interactions. This vision is often focused on their own activities, and the analysis of this data led to the development of a tool for co-building in the form of a role play designed to produce, between beekeepers and farmers, new ideas for the better co-existence of their activities.


 DEPHY Ecophyto project 2013-2018 (funding: ONEMA/APCA)

An action led by France’s Ministry of Agriculture, with financial support from the country’s national agency for water and aquatic environments, using credits from the fee for diffuse pollution attributed to the financing of  the Ecophyto plan.

Partners: ACTA, INRA Avignon, CNRS-CEBC, INRA UE Magneraud, ENSAIA-INRA Colmar, INRA SAD EcoDev Avignon, INRA SAD Grignon, Deux-Sèvres Chamber of Agriculture, CETIOM, ARVALIS-Institut du végétal, ITAB, Jouffray-Drillaud.

Project coordinator: Fabrice ALLIER, ITSAP-Institut de l’abeille/UMT PrADE

Contact :

A tool developed by the institute for the industry: the VarEvaL grid for quick counting of Varroa destructor

The parasitic mite Varroa destructor is a permanent threat to honeybee colonies and a major concern for beekeepers.

Most experiments on Varroa destructor, such as monitoring natural mortality to assess colony infestation, use the counting of dead mites which have fallen on to a sticky board placed under a grill at the base of the hive.

Counting these fallen mites is a tedious job for experimenters. When the number of mites is particularly high, the counting becomes even more of a burden for the experimenters and may result in significant errors. To ease this task, and as part of the UMT PrADE, ITSAP-Institut de l’abeille and INRA in Avignon have designed a counting method using the VarEvaL grill.

This is a plaque perforated with 48 circles through which mites that have fallen onto a sticky board, previously placed in the base of the hive, are counted. The process is used to evaluate the total number of mites with a significantly reduced counting time.

This sampling method using sticky boards relies on statistical properties and has been the subject of several scientific publications proving its efficacy. Several associations involved in the development of beekeeping are now systematically using this plaque counting method during their experiments.

This method was developed through a collaboration between ITSAP-Institut de l’Abeille, INRA-BioSP and the bee biology and pathology laboratory (INRA Avignon) as part of the activities of UMT PrADE. The VarEvaL grill can be ordered at

Contact ‘Bee Health’ coordination:

First beekeeping ‘research days’

It is part of the mission of technical institutes to contribute to the dissemination and utilisation of scientific and technical information. Therefore ITSAP-Institut de l’abeille organised, in partnership with FranceAgriMer and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, the first beekeeping research days on February 6 and 7, 2013.

It comprised a two-day conference with researchers presenting their work funded under the European apiculture programme, and provided the opportunity for participants to take stock of the current issues and exchange ideas with beekeepers and farmers on the problems they encounter in the management of their colonies.

The event brought together more than 200 people around the following themes:

  •  Analytical methods
  • The weakening of colonies and environmental stress
  • Pest control methods
  • Pollination and bee resources

It provided the opportunity for the beekeeping sector to learn about the research projects under the European apiculture programme and meet the research teams from renowned French institutions such as ANSES, INRA, CNRS, universities and technical institutes etc.

Building on the success of this conference, ITSAP-Institut de l’abeille is seeking to stage similar events every year.

All the news on ITSAP-Institut de l’abeille and the 2012/2013 activity report are available at:

Contact ITSAP-Institut de l’abeille :