WASHINGTON — The annual bee survey reported the mortality rate of managed honey bee colonies in the United States was the second highest on record. Nevertheless, beekeepers manage to stay afloat despite resorting to costly and herculean procedures to build new colonies. Even though 48% of colonies were lost in the year ending April 1, a new survey from the University of Maryland and Auburn University found that the total number of bee colonies in United States “remained relatively stable”.
Including nuts, vegetables, berries, citrus fruits and melons, bees pollinate more than a hundred crops essential to our diet. Researchers have found that a number of factors, including pests, pesticides, hunger and climate change, contribute to frequent population crashes. Compared to the previous year’s loss of 39% and the 12-year average of 39.6%, the 48% loss last year is higher, but the expected 50.8% mortality rate for 2020-2021 is even higher.
More than three-fifths of beekeepers surveyed reported losses of more than 21% over the winter, although beekeepers told surveying scientists that this loss was normal. “This is a very troubling loss number when we barely manage enough colonies to meet pollination demands in the United States,” said former government bee scientist Jeff Pettis, head of the global group. from Apimondia beekeepers, who did not participate in the study. It also highlights the effort that beekeepers put in each year to replenish their colony count.
According to the survey’s lead author, Nathalie Steinhauer of the University of Maryland, the bee colony population is stable because commercial beekeepers regularly divide and restock their hives with new queens or colony starter packs. . It takes a lot of money and time to do that. She assured me that the outlook was better than 15 years ago since beekeepers learned to deal with devastating setbacks. Steinhauer remarked, “It’s not really getting worse, but it’s not getting better either.” Apocalypse of the bees? Certainly not.
US Department of Agriculture research entomologist Jay Evans, who was not involved in the survey, said that despite large annual losses, the situation had improved significantly since 2007, when many bee experts had predicted the end of controlled pollination. Evans said: “Bees have persisted despite environmental threats.” To paraphrase, “I don’t think bees are going to go extinct, but I think they will always have those kinds of challenges.”
Evans says some previously successful commercial beekeepers have lost up to 80% of their colonies due to last winter. Pettis, who maintains 150 colonies on the east side of Maryland, said he lost less than 18% to mites. He attributes this success to the use of organic acids. Steinhauer said the main culprit was the parasitic mite varroa destructor, which facilitates virus transmission, but harsh weather conditions and queen problems have also been major challenges over the past year. She also noted that pesticides exacerbate the problem by making bees more susceptible to disease and less likely to forage.
For beekeepers, Varroa is “like death by a thousand cuts”, as Steinhauer put it. Evans compared varroa mites, a flat parasite that crawls on the bee, to a Frisbee or a flat softball on the human body. He and Steinhauer concluded that the mite makes it easier for viruses to attack and kill bees. Pesticides and periods of extreme weather are not the only causes of bee decline; monocultural or homogeneous landscapes also contribute to the problem by starving bees. Some bees in the Washington, DC area, for example, were kicked out of their winter schedule after unusually warm temperatures (about 80 degrees) in January. It’s possible to ignore the effects of climate change on bee colonies, according to Pettis.
According to Steinhauer, the need for pollination from commercial bee colonies is increasing, but beekeepers have to put in more effort to compensate for the losses. According to the USDA, the bee is responsible for 80% of the pollination of plants that humans eat. According to Steinhauer, “These colonies are essential to the success of a large segment of our agricultural industry.” Commercial beekeepers face increased pressure as they are required to increase their hive populations each year in order to meet the demands of their pollination contracts.