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article imageU.S. beekeepers have lost over 40 percent of colonies

By Tim Sandle     Jun 22, 2019 in Environment
U.S. beekeepers have lost over 40 percent of colonies following the highest winter losses ever recorded. These figures add further to the decline in bee populations and the economic significance of a loss of pollinators for agriculture.
The new data comes from the University of Maryland, and it finds a 40.7 percent decrease in honeybee colonies, based on figures relating to the period April 2018 to April 2019. Supporting data was provided by the nonprofit Bee Informed Partnership. Within the data, the biggest losses occurred during the winter, which accounted for losses of 37.7 percent. This stands as the biggest winter loss reported since the survey began 13 years ago (8.9 percentage points higher than the running average).
These figures are very important for agriculture and for maintaining biodiverity. As SeedLabs Chief Scientist, Dr. Gregor Reid told Digital Journal earlier this year: "As pollinators, honey bees are critical to approximately a third of our global food crops. But widespread pesticide use, along with climate change, disease, and habitat loss, has contributed to colony collapse disorder, reducing honey bee populations at an alarming rate."
READ MORE: Can probiotics help stop honeybee colony collapse?
According to the U.S. Federal Register, there are several reasons for bees to to be declared endangered. These reasons include: Habitat loss as the result of development of land for human living; predation by other animals; natural disasters that destroy habitats and kill bees; human intervention that poisons or kills the species (such as the use of pesticides); vulnerability from low numbers and the inability to reproduce quickly enough; and competition from invasive species that are not native to the region. The tricky aspect is how much weight to afford each of these factors and which should be prioritized.
Based on the new research, one of the study author's, Professor Geoffrey Williams states: "Just looking at the overall picture and the 10-year trends, it's disconcerting that we're still seeing elevated losses after over a decade of survey and quite intense work to try to understand and reduce colony loss...We don't seem to be making particularly great progress to reduce overall losses."
In relation to the losses at winter, the primary cause appears to be parasitic varroa mites, which can infest colonies and easily spread between colonies. However, there will be other factors as well and the latest figures about honeybee populations call for a need for increased research, extension, and best management practices.
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