OBITUARY - Dr Hermann Pechhacker (13.03.1939-10.07.2016)

The news of the death of Hermann Pechhacker came as a surprise and has left us mourning. Over the last few years, we had seen that Hermann had not recovered from an urgently needed operation as fast as he and we had hoped. But his enterprising spirit was not affected, so he discussed with us his plans for another visit to his beloved Nepal. Sadly this is not possible anymore.

With great thanks, we remember a very long friendship with Hermann Pechhacker. Exactly 50 years ago, in 1966, Prof. Friedrich Ruttner brought us (Koenigers) to Lunz, Austria for his (today classical research) on Drone Congregation Areas, where we first met Hermann who was working with Hans Ruttner at the Lunz Bee Institute. Together with him we spent many early hours marking more than ten thousand drones; each apiary with a different color. At noon we went out catching drones. In this discipline the superiority of the fitter Austrian in comparison to the German students became apparent. Hermann was the undisputed champion at drone catching!

Already at our first stay at Lunz, the great hospitality of Hermann Pechhacker impressed us deeply. Grown up in the area and guided by an early and keen interest in botany, Hermann showed us rare and beautiful orchids and the impressive alpine flora. Unforgettable were many joint hikes in the glorious mountains, later together with Hermann’s lovely spouse Maria, who always offered homemade juices of elderflowers and marilllen (apricot) cake for the thirsty and hungry wanderers.

Besides his work at the institute, Hermann pursued his academic education with persistent determination. His starting point was a tiny village school. Then during the winter months he went to the training school for forest and mountain agriculture in Hohenlehen, and later to the Josephinum in Wieselburg near Lunz. After finishing school, he registered at University in Wien, and started his studies of agriculture. His MSc. thesis on “the predictability of honeydew flow” was completed 1975. The dissertation “population development of Physokermes species” was accepted in 1983, and finally he received the “Venia Legendi” in 1992 and lectured at the Faculty of Agriculture on bee biology and honey production.

In his research, Hermann Pechhacker focused on nectar flows. In particular, methods for predicting honeydew flow, and the development of the relevant aphids attracted him, and rapidly resulted in a remarkable international scientific reputation. His contributions to several international symposia and congresses further increased his recognition, and soon Hermann was a popular participant at many national and international meetings. Several collaborations with other institutes were started. Together with the bee research institute in Celle, there was a joint project on honey research which included Hermann’s students from Nepal.

His second scientific interest was mating biology. In continuation of the earlier work of the Ruttner brothers, cooperation with the bee research institute in Oberursel was revived. Fundamental data on the flying patterns of queens and drones of different honey bee subspecies, the choice of mating location by queens and drones, and mate choice led to highly recognized publications.

A more applied field of interest of Hermann Pechhacker was honey bee breeding. Based on the Lunz experiences (with the Ruttners!), he developed performance testing and mating control using isolated areas in the Alps, and later on the Adriatic island of Unije. He was among the founders of the ACA (Austrian Carnica Association), which then became a model for the German Initiative for breeding bees tolerant to Varroosis (AGT). The breeding success achieved by Hermann resulted in an increasing international demand for “his” A. m. carnica bees. Although working a lifetime with that bee, Hermann also supported the establishment of a breeding association in Austria for A. m. mellifera.

Hermann Pechhacker was fully aware that biodiversity of honey bees has great importance, and that the dominance of A. m. carnica must not cause the extinction of endangered subspecies. In 2004, he initiated an international working group which later became the COLOSS Research Network for Sustainable Bee Breeding. Honey bee breeding in German speaking part of Europe, and in many countries worldwide owes much to the tireless and successful work of Hermann Pechhacker.

Though deeply rooted in his mountainous homeland, concern for the global development of beekeeping and honey production always held a priority position on Hermann Pechhacker’s agenda. Numerous students from many countries, and especially from Nepal were trained in Lunz and thoroughly supervised by Hermann. His commitment to several local beekeeping development projects in Nepal, Thailand and Chile was also successful.

With Hermann Pechhacker, we have all lost a generous and unforgettable friend and colleague. His personal modesty, his great kindness and his sound knowledge of beekeeping will be sadly missed. Our condolences go to his five children and his ten grandchildren, together with their families, and for the City Council of Lunz who have lost a prominent, long standing and most respected member.

Halle, Germany, 13 July 2016