The Latest Buzz On Disappearing Honey Bees: Some Improvement

honey bee photo

Image via Hack.

The good news: Honey bee colony losses were down this past winter compared to losses during the two previous ones. The bad news: A whopping 29 percent of honey bee colonies vanished between September 2008 and April 2009.

These newly released stats are the results of a survey conducted jointly by the Apiary Inspectors of America and the Agricultural Research Service's Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Md. (a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture).

Researchers admit that while improvement is always good, they are still very worried about—and perplexed by—the fate of the honey bee.The study looked at 20 percent of the country's 2.3 million bee colonies. While there was a big loss, only 15 percent of those vanished showed signs of the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)—a steep decline from the 60 percent of losses linked to CCD the previous year. According to Jeff Pettis, the lead researcher of the survey,

While the drop in losses is encouraging, losses of this magnitude are economically unsustainable for commercial beekeeping.

Colony Collapse Disorder

Honey bee colonies have been disappearing at an alarming rate due to Colony Collapse Disorder, a term that describes the mysterious and "complete absence of bees in dead colonies or in apiaries."

But the study didn't look exclusively at CCD. Colonies can and are lost due to other causes, and the researchers make it clear that this study doesn't distinguish between the different types.

While colony losses have caused a dip in honey production, the more important problem is that with fewer bees seeking out nectar from plants, the pollination process is almost certainly hampered. In fact, farmers have been worried for a few years now because pollinators are an important step in food production. According to one study, bees increase the output of most of the world's top crops.

The bottom line: More than half of all beekeepers reported "above normal losses" over the winter, which is rather discouraging news.

What's a Beekeeper To Do?

In 2007 researchers suggested organic beekeeping is much healthier for bee populations. One theory was that neonicotinoid-based pesticides are at the root of the colony collapses.

However, recent research suggests the culprit is a parasite called Nosema ceranae, or Microsporidia. (Incidentally, they found no significant amounts of pesticides.) On the bright side, researchers discovered that when weak colonies were treated with fumagillin, the colonies recovered.

More on Colony Collapse Disorder:
Bees Rejoice: One Potential Cause of Colony Collapse Disorder Identified
Blogger Writes About Bee Colony Collapse Disorder in his Backyard
UK Beekeepers Demonstrate to Demand Government Action on Colony Collapse Disorder

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