Over the last 12 months, the nation’s beekeepers have reported a 42.1 percent decline in their bee colony populations.
That news comes directly from the the Bee Informed Partnership, a coalition of universities and research laboratories that produces a yearly survey on bee colony health. The survey, financed by the U.S. Agriculture Department, draws its numbers from the reporting of some 5,000 beekeepers nationwide.
The latest 12-month report shows a significant increase over the 2013 and 2014 surveys, which recorded bee losses at a little over 34 percent. Even worse, this year marks the first time that summer loss rates were greater than those in winter. Since the annual surveys began in 2010, the greater bee losses have always occurred in the colder winter months.
“We expect the colonies to die during the winter, because that’s a stressful season,” said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, an expert on honeybees at the University of Maryland and the director of the bee partnership survey. “What’s totally shocking to me is that the losses in summer, which should be paradise for bees, exceeded the winter losses.”
VanEngelsdorp said that the situation seems to be changing, though he added that there is still too little information to suggest a trend.
Bees and other pollinators are essential to the world’s agricultural industry. Many commercial beekeepers will rent their hives to farmers during the pollination season, and the New York Times calculates honeybee pollination services to be worth between $10-15 billion per year.
At one time, beekeepers expected to lose about 10 percent of their colonies in a given year, but in the last decade, honeybee deaths have been on the rise. Colony Collapse Disorder is partially to blame, an unexplained phenomenon that compels bees to abandon their nests and expire, but pesticides and parasitic insects are also believed to be contributing to the mass die-off.
Neonicotinoids, a class of pesticide, have also come under intense scrutiny in recent years. Two of Ontario’s largest honey producers are currently in the midst of a $400 million class-action lawsuit against makers of the pesticide after they claimed that three types of its neonics wiped out their colonies. Thus far, two studies have directly tied neonicotinoid exposure to impairment in bee brains.