Yellow and red and bee | Berlin 2012
Credit: Thomas Quine (quinet on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Last week, I wrote about monarch butterflies and the baffling results of seven in-depth studies. Since bees are also important pollinators, I wondered about their status. You have probably heard of colony collapse disorder and what is known about it thus far.

Honey Bees (Uploaded December 25th, 2013)Kiwi Flickr (kiwi on flickr) / CC-by-2.0Dr. Karen Becker's August 18th, 2015 article The Latest Honey Bee Statistics - A First-Ever Happening shed light on a surprising development.

The results of an annual survey carried out by the Bee Informed Partnership, the Apiary Inspectors of America, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) stated: 

"Summer losses for 2014 were reported as 27.4 percent, exceeding 2014 - 2015 winter losses for the first time."

From April 2014 through April 2015, the total losses were a whopping 42.1 percent. This is a worrisome increase from the previous 2013 -2014 survey which indicated a total loss of 34.2 percent.

Senior entomologist Jeff Pettis, co-author of the survey, explained:

"The winter loss numbers are more hopeful especially combined with the fact that we have not seen much sign of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) for several years, but such high colony losses in the summer and year-round remain very troubling."

Allagash Bee Hive has a new queen!
Credit: Allagash Brewing on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

A Result Unheard of Years Ago

Caupolicana gaulleiUSGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab on flickr / Public DomainUniversity of Maryland's Dennis vanEngelsdorp, assistant professor of entomology and project director for the Bee Informed Partnership stressed: 

"We traditionally thought of winter losses as a more important indicator of health, because surviving the cold winter months is a crucial test for any bee colony. But we now know that summer loss rates are significant too. This is especially so for commercial beekeepers, who are now losing more colonies in the summertime compared to the winter. Years ago, this was unheard of."

And vanEngelsdorp explained that commercial beekeepers take appropriate measures to protect colonies (in the summer) from Varroa mites. It is usually the backyard beekeepers that see heavy mite infestations. 

"So, there must be other factors at play," he reasoned.

Bumble BeeMatthias (mattuschek on flickr) CC-by-2.0An in-depth, peer-reviewed analysis of the survey data is set to be published later this year. Yet the preliminary analysis, Colony Loss 2014 - 2015: Preliminary Results (published May 13th, 2015 by Bee Informed), indicated the following:

  • The total annual loss of 42.1 percent, between April 2014 and April 2015, represents the second highest annual loss recorded to date.
  • The highest annual loss was over 45 percent from 2012 - 2013.
  • As reported in previous years, colony losses were not consistent across the country. In fact, annual losses exceeded 60 percent in several states. When I checked out the Total Annual Loss by State - Loss Survey 2014 - 2015 (Figure 2), it appeared that the mid to eastern states were most impacted.
  • Hawaii, however, reported the lowest total annual colony loss of about 14 percent.
4226 hooped bee 2
Credit: crabchick on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Theories and Factors Affecting Bee Colonies

I'll bee backGhost of Kuji on flickr / CC-by-2.0When I read over the 2012 - 2013 Winter Loss Survey, backyard beekeepers reported "manageable factors" such as poor nutrition (starvation) and weak colonies, especially in the fall.

Commercial beekeepers, however, identified non-manageable factors such as pesticide use and "queen failure" as the main reasons for colony loss.

Dr. Becker's recent article pointed to:

  • Poor nutritional status of bees (a likely factor in the increase of summer bee mortality).
  • A loss of millions of acres of wildflowers. Crop prices have driven farmers to replace them with other plants.
  • An unusually high number of queen bee deaths.
  • Stress: moved colonies (or split ones) "pushed bees to their limits."

What Struck a Chord 

I mentioned this theory in my monarch butterfly article as well. I have to wonder if the fallout from the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi's nuclear disaster is disrupting the queen bees' abilities to reproduce.

Similarly, I wonder if the plants bees feed on were affected somehow by this disaster.

As I noted, the cesium-137 distribution map in an August 20th, 2013 ENENews post titled Study shows Fukushima nuclear pollution becoming more concentrated as it approaches U.S. West Coast makes me wonder.

Up next is the most inspiring (and hilarious) TEDx talk by Sarah Red-Laird published June 20th, 2014. Sarah Red-Laird is the founder and Executive Director of Bee Girl, a non-profit organization. She is a research scientist, educator, conservationist and revered beekeeper.

Just one notable quote from her speech:

"One out of every three bites of food you eat is pollinated by a honey bee." ~ Sarah Red-Laird

We Can Save the Bees Together

Sarah Red-Laird at TEDxBend

What is the President Doing?

The Pollinator Health Task Force has a goal to "reduce over-winter honeybee colony losses to 15 percent within 10 years." 

But Simon Fraser University's Mark Winston, professor of biology, stressed in The Washington Post that the Obama administration is not adequately addressing the agricultural use of toxic pesticides. He added:

"If you don’t change farming and you don’t change pesticide use, you’re not going to make substantial changes in the health of pollinators."

Lastly, the next video by Sebastian Martinez (published by Newsy on May 19th, 2015) summarized the latest White House initiative. Incredibly, pollination by honeybees is "believed to contribute more than $15 billion to the U.S. crop economy annually."

The President's Plan To Save Vanishing Bees, Pollinators

Published on May 19th, 2015 by Newsy (only 1:47 min):

How to Help Bees

The Ontario Beekeepers' Association has a treasure trove of information for those considering beekeeping. In Toronto (and other cities in the world), people are even planting rooftop gardens for bees and other pollinators. 

I was wildly impressed that the Fairmont hotel chain has been helping to combat Colony Collapse Disorder since 2008 by placing rooftop gardens and honeybee hives on site. Fairmont was the first luxury hotel chain to develop this honeybee program and is now considered a leader in the field.

What Fairmont has done is set an example for other businesses to follow. For those of us who live or work in big cities, it is completely doable to provide a flowering area for bees on your balcony or rooftop.

5314 bybybw beecrabchick on flickr / CC-by-2.0For those of us who plant a garden (even a small one), Dr. Becker recommends: 

  1. Planting bee-friendly flowers that were NOT treated with any neonicotinoid-containing pesticides. It's important that the seeds or plants they originate from are/were also pesticide-free.
  2. Choose native flowering plants from your local area. (She mentions that clover, alfalfa, or soil-replenishing and erosion-preventing flowering plants help too).
  3. Avoid insecticides that contain the following neonics: acetamiprid, clothianidin, dinotefuran, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam.

Remember: A Third of Our Food is Pollinated by Bees

Bumble Bee
Credit: Pierre Guinoiseau (geekounet on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
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