New surveys conducted by several entities determined that honey bee colonies continue to drop despite a nationwide effort to reverse the annual losses. There is no specific factor nationwide that is known to be interfering with the animals, but some experts assured that is due to environmental stressors. Therefore including factors such as parasites and pesticides that can vary from state to state.

Honey bee colonies lost 44 percent of their population in the past year, according to a survey made by the Bee Informed Partnership. The survey was made in collaboration with the Apiary Inspectors of America (AIA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Honey Bee Colonies in the U.S. have experienced a significant drop in comparison to last year's
According tohoney beekeepers with five or more colonies, the Varroa mite, a parasite, was the leading stressor affecting their colonies. Image Credit: Live Vote

The colony losses is generally referred to as colonies whose bees have died from any number of possible reasons such as environmental stressors. The decreased bee colonies do not necessarily refer to hives stricken by Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). The CCD is a specific phenomenon that occurs when a colony’s worker bees suddenly abandon the nest, as reported by the Washington Post.

To gather the data, the survey queried more than 20,000 honey beekeepers, who have less than five colonies. Other 3,300 beekeeping operations with five or more colonies were surveyed on a quarterly basis as well.

Some reports from honey beekeepers with five or more colonies said that the Varroa mite, a parasite, was the leading stressor affecting their colonies. In addition, they also reported more colonies suffering from the Colony Collapse Disorder in the first quarter of 2016 with 113,930 bees lost. A significant increase in comparison to the 92,250 lost in the same quarter in 2015.

“Pollinators are essential to the production of food, and in the United States, honey bees pollinate an estimated $15 billion of crops each year, ranging from almonds to zucchinis,” said Dr. Ann Bartuska, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics. “This new data will add to USDA’s robust scientific body of knowledge on the inventory, movement and death loss of honeybees in the United States.”

Summer and winter losses

According to the survey’s coordinator Nathalie Steinhauer, they only focused on winter losses. A significant factor considering winter was generally seen as the most stressful time of the year for bees. Steinhauer is also a Ph.D. candidate in entomology at the University of Maryland.

Later, the team started tracking things more closely to assess the effects of different beekeeping practices. Leading them to become aware of some disturbing information.

Honeybee keepers face a major threat for their business
The decrease of honey bee population could bring not only a major work gap for honeybee keepers but also environmental consequences. Image Credit: Time


The data showed the difference between summer and winter bee losses has become almost the same. Even though summer supposed to be a time for bees to thrill and be healthy, the data shed light on this notion. Last year the losses were almost 30 percent in both seasons. The high levels of summer losses came as a surprise for researchers, Steinhauer added in an email to Tech Insider.

Three probable causes

What other surveys have found as a probable cause for the decline in the colony was three major drivers. Pesticides, poor nutrition and, most importantly, parasites, said Dennis VanEngelsdorp. Alongside Steinhauer, VanEngelsdorp is the survey’s project director and an entomologist at the University of Maryland as well.

Another survey published last month in journal Apidologie provided some insights into what afflictions are the biggest problems for honeybees. Notably, the survey found that bee parasites and diseases between 2009 and 2014. Interestingly enough, Dennis VanEngelsdorp was also involved in the research.

Nosema, a disease-causing fungus, and the Varroa mite, the parasite capable of carrying a variety of harmful viruses, were the most common problems among honey bee colonies. The Varroa’s presence among the most common problems concur with the Bee Informed Partnership survey.

“Especially in the fall, over 50 percent of the colonies sampled had levels higher than we think will damage colonies,” VanEngelsdorp said. “When those colonies die, they spread their mites to all the neighborhood bees,” he added.

He noted that some backyard keepers, who have less that 50 colonies at a time, sometimes fail to treat their hives for mites, and this contributes to the parasite’s spread.

However, the mites’ role is a ‘little more complicated’ and is more likely to be combine with other factors. And those factors could contribute to the demise of colonies, including the effects of pesticides or poor nutrition, VanEngelsdorp said.

In conclusion, there may not be or have not been detected a single factor that is contributing to the decline of the bee’s colonies. The surveys will be taken into account for decision-making process for the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.

A nationwide effort

As a response to the troubling dropped among the pollinators, the government released a program aimed to address this specific problem last year. Yet the program could end up interfering in worldwide economic, due to the pollinators which bees are part of. Notably, bees are needed to produce approximately one-third of the U.S. food. Bees also contribute about $15 billion worth of honey and pollination to the U.S. agricultural industry each year, according to the program.

This national strategy has three main goals set. First, the government intends to reduce honey bee colony losses to economically sustainable levels. Secondly, to increase monarch butterfly numbers. And finally, to restore millions of acres of land for pollinators through combines public and private action.

Source: USDA