So now we know. This year’s honeybee losses in the US are 33.8% - up from 29% last year and slightly down on the 36% reported in 2007/08. But it means the fourth year of unsustainable losses. The figures are from the latest Apiary Inspectors of America survey in conjuction with the Uunited States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA)’s Agricultural Research Service.
The online survey and interviews with more than 4,000 beekeepers - both commercial and small time beekeepers - covered more than 22% of the estimated 2.46 million honeybee colonies in the US.
About 28% of surveyed beekeepers reported signs of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), compared with 26 % the previous year and 32% the year before that. The primary indication of colony collapse is whether hives are found empty.
Those beekeepers reporting signs of CCD lost more of their bees (44%) compared to beekeepers who cited other reasons. They lost a quarter of their bee colonies. This seems to confirm what US scientists have been saying for some time that CCD is a contagious condition.
In the survey, 32% of beekeepers cited starvation, often the result of low honey production the previous summer, as the main cause of losses. That was followed by unfavorable weather conditions. A wet summer prevents the bees from foraging so they go into the winter malnourished, and may not be strong enough to last a long, harsh winter, especially if they are also weakened by viruses and pests (12%) and poor-quality queen bees (10%) . Only 5% of beekeepers themselves self-reported CCD as the chief factor in their bees demise.
Dave Hackenberg, the Pennsylvia-based commercial beekeeper who first raised the alarm about CCD in November 2006, criticises the survey for focusing on winter losses. He says by doing so, it underplays serious threats to honeybees during the summer from pesticide use and gives a false picture of the scale of the losses. He says he lost 62% of his 2,600 colonies between May 2009 and April 2010.
Another report from the World Organisation for Animal Health has confirmed what most experts had already concluded, that there is no single cause for bee deaths around the world. Experts agreed that “irresponsbile pesticide use might have an impact on bee health in particular by weakening bees and increasing their susceptibility to different diseases”. But it also pointed the finger at the varroa mite, viruses, bacteria infections, and poor nutrition. It calls for better control, minotoring, inspections and diagnosis of disease, but it also suggested that the global trade of bees between countries was a major cause of contamination and that stricter guidelines and standards should be adopted.
Finally, research earlier this year from Penn State University, which has been leading investigations into CCD since its discovery, found that 121 different pesticides in bees wax and pollen. Read it here.
So what now? The conclusions we came to in our book still stand.
Add your responses to the Observer article I wrote this week to draw attention to the latest bee losses, or leave comments here.