Science

USDA Says 40% Of Honeybee Colonies Died In 12 Months

Scientists are desperately searching for a solution to the worrying trend of bee deaths, which is threatening to put professional beekeepers out of business, as well as raising concerns for the ecosystem as a whole, writes Tennille Tracy for The Wall Street Journal.

USDA Says 40% Of Honeybee Colonies Died In 12 Months

Honeybee die-offs now occurring in summer and winter

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its annual honeybee survey on Wednesday, and it does not make for easy reading. The Agriculture Department states that beekeepers have started to report the loss of large amounts of honeybees during both the summer and winter seasons. Bee die-offs generally used to occur during the cold winter months, and now scientists are grappling with the information that they sometimes no longer survive the summer months.

Pressure on professional beekeepers is bad news for the agriculture industry, which uses honeybees to pollinate over $15 billion of crops annually. Almond growers in California would be particularly hard hit by the increasing scarcity of bees, given that they rely exclusively on honeybees in order to pollinate their crops.

High death rates among the honeybee population is threatening the livelihoods of professional beekeepers who are struggling to deal with the economic pressures of replenishing their colonies every year.

Population decline accelerating

“If beekeepers are going to meet the growing demand for pollination services, researchers need to find better answers to the host of stresses that lead to both winter and summer colony losses,” said Jeff Pettis, an entomologist at the Agriculture Department’s bee research lab.

The bee report provides information on a 12-month period ending April 2015, during which beekeepers lost 42% of their colonies. In the previous year, that number was 34%, according to the survey.

Although the survey did not try to explain the cause of the deaths, it is thought that a combination of factors are to blame. A poor diet and the stress associated with the frequent relocation of hives for commercial pollination work are just two of the factors, which also include a blood-sucking parasite called the Varroa mite and a group of pesticides known as neonicotinoids.

The White House is working on a national plan to address bee deaths, which is expected to be released in the next few weeks.