Environment: Honeybee decline worsens in 2012

Shortage of honeybee colonies for agriculture growing

Bees help pollinate commercial crops and wild plants. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — U.S. beekeepers said they lost almost a third (31.3 percent) of their managed honeybee colonies during the 2012-2013 winter, more than double the “acceptable” loss rate of 15 percent.

Colony losses increased 42 percent from the previous year, with about 70 percent of the beekeepers surveyed reporting that they lost more than 15 percent of their honeybee colonies, according to the preliminary results of an annual survey.

An estimated one-third of all food and beverages are made possible by pollination, mainly by honey bees. A decline in managed bee colonies puts great pressure on the sectors of agriculture reliant on commercial pollination services. This is evident from reports of shortages of bees available for the pollination of many crops.

Detailed bee surveys started seven years ago, as concerns over honeybee colony losses mounted and researchers started documenting honeybee colony collapse. For the 2012 – 2013 winter season, a total of 6,287 U.S. beekeepers answered the survey. Collectively, they  managed 599,610 colonies in October 2012, about 22.9 percent of the country’s estimated 2.62 million colonies.

Pollination from honeybees is worth an estimated $20 billion to $30 billion annually, and the continued loss of bees is a huge concern. Increasingly, signs point toward pesticides as one of the key factors in the honeybee decline. Last week, the EU, announced a two-year ban on certain types of pesticides that will help assess whether the toxic chemicals are to blame.

American agriculture experts acknowledge that pesticides are one factor in the decline, but the U.S. government still appears to be far from adopting any kind of ban on pesticides.

In a recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the EPA and other stakeholders says there are multiple factors playing a role in honey bee colony declines, including parasites and disease, genetics, poor nutrition and pesticide exposure.

The report called for greater genetic diversity, targeted breeding of colonies and more research into the impacts of pesticides.

“There is an important link between the health of American agriculture and the health of our honeybees for our country’s long term agricultural productivity,” said Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan. “The forces impacting honeybee health are complex and USDA, our research partners, and key stakeholders will be engaged in addressing this challenge.”

“The decline in honey bee health is a complex problem caused by a combination of stressors, and at EPA we are committed to continuing our work with USDA, researchers, beekeepers, growers and the public to address this challenge,” said Acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe.

Key findings include:

Parasites and Disease Present Risks to Honey Bees:

  • The parasitic Varroa mite is recognized as the major factor underlying colony loss in the U.S. and other countries. There is widespread resistance to the chemicals beekeepers use to control mites within the hive. New virus species have been found in the U.S. and several of these have been associated with Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

Increased Genetic Diversity is Needed:

  • U.S. honeybee colonies need increased genetic diversity. Genetic variation improves bees thermoregulation (the ability to keep body temperature steady even if the surrounding environment is different), disease resistance and worker productivity.
  • Honey bee breeding should emphasize traits such as hygienic behavior that confer improved resistance to Varroa mites and diseases (such as American foulbrood).

Poor Nutrition Among Honey Bee Colonies:

  • Nutrition has a major impact on individual bee and colony longevity. A nutrition-poor diet can make bees more susceptible to harm from disease and parasites. Bees need better forage and a variety of plants to support colony health.
  • Federal and state partners should consider actions affecting land management to maximize available nutritional forage to promote and enhance good bee health and to protect bees by keeping them away from pesticide-treated fields.

There is a Need for Improved Collaboration and Information Sharing:

  • Best Management Practices associated with bees and pesticide use, exist, but are not widely or systematically followed by members of the crop-producing industry. There is a need for informed and coordinated communication between growers and beekeepers and effective collaboration between stakeholders on practices to protect bees from pesticides.
  • Beekeepers emphasized the need for accurate and timely bee kill incident reporting, monitoring, and enforcement.

Additional Research is Needed to Determine Risks Presented by Pesticides:

  • The most pressing pesticide research questions relate to determining actual pesticide exposures and effects of pesticides to bees in the field and the potential for impacts on bee health and productivity of whole honey bee colonies.



The Colony Collapse Steering Committee was formed in response to a sudden and widespread disappearance of adult honey bees from beehives, which first occurred in 2006. The Committee will consider the report’s recommendations and update the CCD Action Plan which will outline major priorities to be addressed in the next 5-10 years and serve as a reference document for policy makers, legislators and the public and will help coordinate the federal strategy in response to honey bee losses.

To view the report, which represents the consensus of the scientific community studying honey bees, please visit: http://www.usda.gov/documents/ReportHoneyBeeHealth.pdf


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