Honeybee Deaths In The US Rose At A Significant And “Troubling” Rate Last Year

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The number of the so-far unexplained honeybee deaths in the US rose at a significant and “troubling” rate last year, according to a government report. The summer deaths have for the first time outnumbered the winter ones.

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Thousands of beekeepers reported losses of 42.1 percent of their colonies in the 12-month period that ended in April, according to the annualsurvey released by the Bee Informed Partnership and largely funded by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). That number is more than double the 18.7 percent yearly loss that the USDA considers to be economically sustainable.

“Such high colony losses in the summer and year-round remain very troubling,” Jeff Pettis, a USDA senior entomologist, said in a statement.

 

The figure is also well above the 34.2 percent loss reported for the same period in 2013 and 2014, and is the second-highest recorded loss since year-round surveys began in 2010.

Summer honeybee deaths were shown to exceed winter deaths for the first time, with each season registering 27.4 and 23.1 percent losses, respectively.

The die-offs were felt mostly by the nation’s commercial beekeepers, who rent their hives to farmers during pollination seasons. Millions of honeybees are needed to pollinate plants that produce a quarter of the food consumed by Americans, and their services have an estimated value of $10 billion to $15 billion a year.

Over the past few years, the bee population has been dying at a rate which has alarmed the US government. In June 2014, the White House created the Pollinator Health Task Force to study the issue.

Though Washington’s concern is shared by beekeepers, farmers, and environmentalists, the cause of the massive die-off is still unknown – and has sparked fierce debate within the US.

Some have blamed the die-off on a class of insecticide known as neonicotinoids, or neonics, which is used on crops such as corn, as well as on standard garden plants.

However, neonicotinoid manufacturer Bayer CropScience defended its thiacloprid product against bee-harming allegations last month.

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The chemical is “extremely safe to bees when used according to the label instructions,” spokesman Dr. Julian Little said, as quoted by the Guardian.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is issuing a series of studies on the effects of neonics on bees and plants; the first in a series of assessments is expected to be released later this year.

Others have blamed the varroa mite parasite, along with the stresses that bee colonies endure while being carted from farm to farm during growing seasons.

While the survey did not directly address the causes of honeybee deaths, it did say that varroa mites are a much larger problem for beekeepers who keep fewer than 50 hives, as commercial beekeepers are likely on higher alert for deadly infestations.

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The survey findings are considered preliminary, as a more detailed report is due to be published later in 2015, the USDA said. The results are based on survey responses from about 6,100 beekeepers managing 400,000 colonies, who represent nearly 15.5 percent of the 2.74 million US bee colonies.


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Nearly one quarter of the US honeybee population died over the winter, according to an annual survey. Beekeepers report the losses remain higher than they consider sustainable, and the death rate could soon affect the country’s food supply.

“More than three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants rely on pollinators, such as bees, to reproduce, meaning pollinators help produce one out of every three bites of food Americans eat,” the US Department of Agriculture said in a statement about the survey. Bees’ pollinating role adds $15 billion to the value of U.S. crops, including apples, almonds, watermelons and beans, according to government reports.

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The study, produced by a partnership between the USDA, the Apiary Inspectors of America and the Bee Informed Partnership, found that 23.2 percent of honeybee colonies died over the winter, which is higher than the “acceptable winter mortality rate” of 18.9 percent.

The good news for the beekeeping and agricultural industries is that the 23.2 percent colony loss rate is lower than that of Winter 2012-2013, where 30.5 percent of colonies died.

“Pollinators, such as bees, birds and other insects are essential partners for farmers and ranchers and help produce much of our food supply. Healthy pollinator populations are critical to the continued economic well-being of agricultural producers,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in the USDA statement. “While we’re glad to see improvement this year, losses are still too high and there is still much more work to be done to stabilize bee populations.”

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Honeybee hives are generally inactive during the winter, when the colony survives by creating a winter cluster. The bees bundle together for warmth, which self-regulates the internal temperature in the cluster’s center, according to the Back Yard Beekeepers Association. This winter, record cold temperatures, marked by polar vortices sweeping down from the Arctic Circle, may have proved deadly to the bee population.

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“It was about the worst winter we’ve had in the past 20 years, for bee management and surviving bees,” Jerry Fischer, chief apiary inspector with the Maryland Department of Agriculture, said to the Baltimore Sun. Maryland lost nearly 50 percent of its honeybee population, an increase over previous years, which averaged about a one-third loss annually. Fischer said that many of the colonies he inspected last summer appeared to not have stored up adequate honey supplies to survive the unusually harsh winter.

A Harvard study published earlier in May found that two popular insecticides – both of which are neonicotinoids – are the likely cause of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the disease killing off honeybees and threatening pollination of the world’s crops. The researchers noted that the colder the winter, the more the severe the harm from the insecticides.

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“With the damning evidence mounting, pesticide companies can no longer spin their way out of this crisis,” Michele Simon, a public health lawyer who specializes in food issues, told Reuters.

But neonicotinoid producers, including Bayer AG, Monsanto Co and DuPont, argue that mites – not their products – are to blame for the devastating loss.

“Yearly fluctuations in the rate of losses like these only demonstrate how complicated the whole issue of honey bee [health] has become, with factors such as viruses and other pathogens, parasites like varroa mites, problems of nutrition from lack of diversity in pollen sources, and even sublethal effects of pesticides combining to weaken and kill bee colonies,” Jeff Pettis, co-author of the survey and research leader of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., said in the USDA statement.

BeeLogics, a Monsanto-owned bee health company and a collaborator on the annual survey, laid much of the blame for the colony collapses on the varroa mite, an Asian bee parasite first found in the US in 1987, Reuters reported.

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“What is clear from all of our efforts is that varroa is a persistent and often unexpected problem,” Dennis vanEngelsdorp, an entomologist at the University of Maryland and the director of the Bee Informed Partnership, said in a USDA ARS statement. “Every beekeeper needs to have an aggressive varroa management plan in place. Without one, they should not be surprised if they suffer large losses every other year or so. Unfortunately, many small-scale beekeepers are not treating and are losing many colonies. Even beekeepers who do treat for mites often don’t treat frequently enough or at the right time. If all beekeepers were to aggressively control mites, we would have many fewer losses.”

This year’s Colony Loss 2013-2014 survey was conducted differently than in previous years, the researchers noted. It was the first time the scientists focused on summer colony loss as well. From April to October 2013, 20 percent of all colonies managed died, the study found. The combination of winter and summer losses was around 30 percent, vanEngelsdorp told Time. Been Informed Partnership and its collaborators hope the expanded survey will improve their understanding of CCD.

“We used to think that winter was the critical period,” vanEngelsdorp said in a news release. “But during our field studies, beekeepers told us they were also losing colonies in the summer months. So we expanded the survey and found that, in fact, colonies are dying all year round.”


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The strange and unexplained massive honeybee die-off that has killed a staggering number of bees each year since 2006 could be caused by a virus found in tobacco plants, according to a new study.

Tens of millions of bees began dropping off nearly a decade ago, a phenomenon that scientists have largely been unable to explain. A 2013 report from the Department of Agriculture warned that if the honey bee die-off continues, the existence of the more than 100 crops they pollinate could be put at risk.

Research published Tuesday in the online version of mBio, an academic journal that focuses on microbiology, determined that the annual deaths generally begin in autumn, with most of the bees dropping off in the winter months before stabilizing again in the spring. The tobacco ringspot virus (TRSV) is also at its peak during that time, according to the study, and appears to have quickly jumped from tobacco plants to soy plants and now bees.

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The honeybees are thought to contract the virus when they are foraging, and then spread it when they mix their saliva and nectar with the pollen (which contains the virus) for honeybee larvae to eat. Researchers at mBio theorized that the virus may also be spread to the mites that feed on honeybee larvae.

“Toxic viral cocktails appear to have a strong link with honey bee Colony Collapse Disorder (CDC), a mysterious malady that abruptly wiped out entire hives across the United States and was first reported in 2006,” explained authors at Science Codex.

“When these researchers investigated bee colonies classified as ‘strong’ or ‘weak,’ TRSV and other viruses were more common in the weak colonies then they were in the strong ones. Bee populations with high levels of multiple viral infections began failing in late fall and perished before February, these researchers report. In contrast, those in colonies with fewer viral assaults survived the entire cold winter months,” the science site continued.

Other sources compared the virus to a sexually transmitted disease that spreads throughout the human population. The researchers, however, warned that infection via pollination could be disastrous for the honeybee if it goes uncorrected.

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“The increasing prevalence of TRSV in conjunction with other bee viruses is associated with a gradual decline of host populations and supports the view that viral infections have a significant negative impact on colony survival,” the biologists concluded.

This is not the first time bees have faced increasingly difficult odds for their survival. A study published in October from the University of New Hampshire revealed that approximately 90 percent of the bee population was wiped out 65 million years ago by the same meteor that rendered the dinosaurs extinct. The impact killed a large share of the plant life that bees rely on to eat, and the insects that did survive were forced to inter-mingle to avoid the same fate.

“We discovered that there was a long period of stasis in all four tribes of bees around 65 million years ago,” UNH professor Sandra Rehan told NPR. “Mutation should occur at a constant rate over time, and so when you see this long period where nothing occurred, that’s indicative of a mass extinction event.”


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