American honeybees are dying at an alarming rate, with beekeepers reporting that they’ve lost almost half (42 percent) of their colonies since April last year.
A new study published earlier this week (on Wednesday) by the Bee Informed Partnership surveyed about 6.100 beekeepers across the country. 5.000 of them reported losing 42.1 percent of their colonies in the past year, a significant increase since 2013 and 2014 when they reported losing only 34.2 percent.
This means that commercial beekeepers are now losing two out of five colonies, a new low in the continuous decline of honeybee population that started in 2006, when beekeepers reported losing 10 percent of their bees.
Scientists were surprised to find out that more deaths occurred in the summer (27.4 percent), than in winter, an unusual event that has never happened before. In past years, more bees have died during winter due to short food supplies and extreme temperatures.
Dennis vanEngelsdorp, an assistant entomology professor at the University of Maryland, gave a statement saying “We expect the colonies to die during the winter, because that’s a stressful season. What’s totally shocking to me is that the losses in summer, which should be paradise for bees, exceeded the winter losses”.
He stressed that the phenomenon is the equivalent of seeing a more people die from the flu during summer than during winter.
Scientists traditionally gave winter deaths more importance, seeing the survival of the cold months as an indicator the honeybees’ health. They generally agree that the new study is eye-opening to the importance of summer deaths as commercial beekeepers are now suffering greater loses in summer than they ever did in winter.
Diana Cox-Foster, an entomology professor at the Pennsylvania State University, said that most if the major commercial beekeepers get a dark and panicked look in they eyes when they discuss the summer loses and what they mean for their businesses.
Keith Delaplane, study co-author and professor at the University of Georgia, explained that what scientists are observing with the bee problem is a kind of load signal that there are some bad things happening with our agro-ecosystems. Experts simply happened to notice it with honeybees because they are very easy to count.
His colleague, vanEngelsdorp agrees, believing that the honeybees’ increasingly poor nutrition could be one of the factors responsible for the overall high death toll, and the rising number of summer deaths in particular. Other suspects include a deadly parasite knows as the varroa mite and pesticides, neonicotinoids to be exact.
The issue is not isolated or restricted to the US as The European Commission went as far as banning the use of three variations of neonicotinoids on flowering plants. They believe it to be harmful to bees.
Last month, The Environmental Protection Agency said it would most likely not approve any further use if the pesticide until they conduct more tests on the risks it may pose to bees, as well as other pollinators.
The current state of affairs is quite as grim as it may sound. vanEngelsdorp and Delaplane informed that after a colony dies, beekeepers split up their surviving colonies, start new ones, and the numbers always go back up again.
Oklahoma, Illinois, Iowa, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Maine and Wisconsin are the most affected by the phenomenon, as they each lost more than 60 percent of their hives this past year.
Image Source: telegraph.co.uk