Survey shows U.S. honey bee deaths increased over last year
SAN FRANCISCO ” The first survey of bee health this year revealed a grim picture, with 36.1 percent of the nation’s commercially managed hives collapsing ” a 13.5 percent increase over 2007.
As beekeepers travel with their hives this spring to pollinate crops around the country, it’s clear the bees themselves are buckling under the weight of new diseases, pesticide drift and old enemies like the parasitic varroa mite, said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, president of the Apiary Inspectors of America, which commissioned the survey released Tuesday.
This is the second year the association has measured colony deaths across the country. This means there aren’t enough numbers to show a trend, but clearly bees are dying at unsustainable levels and the situation is not improving, said vanEngelsdorp, also a bee expert with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.
“For two years in a row, we’ve sustained a substantial loss,” he said. “That’s an astonishing number. Imagine if one out of every three cows, or one out of every three chickens, were dying. That would raise a lot of alarm.”
The survey included 327 operators, or 19 percent of the country’s approximately 2.44 million commercially managed bee hives. The data is being prepared for submission to a journal.
Most of the bee deaths ” 71 percent ” were not due to Colony Collapse Disorder, a mysterious disease that causes adult bees to abandon their hives.
But when hives show symptoms of the ailment ” when bees completely abandon a hive that otherwise looked healthy ” a large percentage of a keeper’s hives are wiped out.
Bee operations that noticed these symptoms had a total loss of 41.3 percent of their colonies. Beekeepers who did not find signs of colony collapse lost an average of 17.5 percent of their hives.
“What’s frightening about CCD is that it’s not predictable or understood,” vanEngelsdorp said.
This combination of factors highlights the need for more research, not only into CCD, but into pollinator health in general, said vanEngelsdorp.
On Tuesday, Pennsylvania’s Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff announced that the state would pour an additional $20,400 into research at Pennsylvania State University looking for the causes of Colony Collapse Disorder. This raises emergency funds dedicated to investigating the disease to $86,000.
“We can’t afford to be lax in dealing with this problem,” Wolff said in a statement.
The issue also has attracted federal grants and funding from companies that depend on honey bees, including ice-cream maker Haagen Daazs.
Because the berries, fruits and nuts that give about 28 of Haagen-Daazs’ varieties flavor depend on honey bees for pollination, the company is donating up to $250,000 to CCD and sustainable pollination research at Penn State and the University of California, Davis.
“Public awareness is a real benefit to the industry,” said vanEngelsdorp. “That’s the only silver lining here ” this highlights the plight and importance of bees.”