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Honey bee decline causes buzz throughout nation
bees pic
A new report found that annual losses of managed honey bee colonies is at 42.1 percent from April 2014 to April 2015. - photo by Journal file photo

A recent survey regarding honey bee colony loss has received a swarm of attention, as its preliminary findings reveal that more than 40 percent of honey bee colonies died over a 12-month period culminating last month.

Preliminary results from the survey, which is the combined efforts of the Bee Informed Partnership, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the Apiary Inspectors of America, revealed that annual losses of managed honey bee colonies is at 42.1 percent from April 2014 to April 2015.

Results also showed a slight, but welcomed decreased in winter losses at 23.1 percent and an increase in summer losses at 27.4 percent. This marks the first year that summer losses have surpassed winter losses.

“The winter loss numbers are more hopeful especially combined with the fact that we have not seen much sign of Colony Collapse Disorder for several years, but such high colony losses in the summer and year-round remain very troubling,” said Jeff Pettis, co-author of the survey and senior entomologist of the Agricultural Research Service Bee Research Laboratory.

Although winter losses saw a decrease of 0.6 percent, that was not the case for summer losses for 2014-2015, which come as a 7.6 percent increase from 2013-2014, and total annual losses, which come as 7.9 percent increase from 2013-2014.

As assistant professor of entomology at University of Maryland and project director of the Bee Informed Partnership, Dennis vanEngelsdorp believes that these losses come as a result of heavy mite infestations for backyard beekeepers, especially when a majority of them are not controlling mites properly.

According to vanEngelsdorp, commercial beekeepers are more susceptible to summer losses. However he noted that because commercial beekeepers typically take action to combat Varroa mites, there must be other factors contributing to the increased losses.

“We traditionally thought of winter losses as a more important indicator of health, because surviving the cold winter months is a crucial test for any bee colony,” said vanEngelsdorp, “but we now know that summer loss rates are significant too. This is especially so for commercial beekeepers, who are now losing more colonies in the summertime compared to the winter.

“Years ago, this was unheard of,” continued vanEngelsdorp.

The preliminary results from the survey, which took into account more than 6,100 beekeepers across the country that manage nearly 400,000 colonies from April 2014 to April 2015, has even garnered attention from the White House.

Earlier this week, the White House Pollinator Health Task Force released a report detailing the “National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators,” which will not only aid honey bees, but other pollinators as well.

By combating multiple stressors on pollinator health, such as pests and pathogens, reduced habitat, lack of nutritional resources, and pesticide exposure, the task force aims to reduce honey bee losses drastically during winter to no more than 15 percent within a 10 year time period.

As detailed in the plan, which is comes as a comprehensive and collaborative effort across 14 agencies and the private sector, the task force will set a baseline by developing appropriate monitoring and modeling approaches, which will lead to a better understanding of both native managed bees and unmanaged native pollinators.

Additionally, the task force plans to restore or enhance seven million acres of land for pollinators over the next five years through Federal actions and public/private partnerships.

The plan has garnered approval from Congressman Jeff Denham (R-Turlock), who alongside Alcee Hastings (D-Florida), commended the Pollinator Health Task Force for their efforts. Together, they released the following statement:

“As co-chairmen of the Congressional Pollinator Protection Caucus, the goal of which is to find solutions to the issues facing pollinators nationwide, we applaud the efforts of the Task Force. This strategy could not have come at a more critical time for pollinators, as a recently released study revealed that in a 12-month period ending in April, more than 40 percent of U.S. honeybee colonies died.

“Pollinators are vital to our nation’s agriculture, economy, and ecosystem. With 75 percent of flowering plants relying on pollinators, and pollinators contributing nearly $15 billion to the nation’s economy, improving their health and strengthening their population is critically important. We are pleased that the issues facing pollinators are receiving the attention needed and will continue to work towards improving pollinator health nationwide.”