Results of a new survey released Tuesday paint another dire picture of the population of bees in the United States.
Nearly a third of managed honey bee colonies were lost this past winter, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Bee Informed Partnership and the Apiary Inspectors of America (AIA) found, a 42% increase in loss over the previous winter.
But USDA bee expert Dr. Jeff Pettis, who worked on the study, also noted that "the 31 percent figure likely under-represents the losses, as we saw many weak colonies that were not actually dead."
Rather than showing evidence of colony collapse disorder (CCD), Pettis said most colonies "dwindled away rather than suffering from the sudden onset of CCD."
70% of the survey respondents reported a loss over 15% — a loss percentage deemed "acceptable."
The 6 year average total loss is also far above that "acceptable" level, averaging 30.5%.
The analysis was done by a team of 11 researchers led by Dennis vanEngelsdorp, an entomologist at the University of Maryland and director of the Bee Informed Partnership.
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“We are one poor weather event or high winter bee loss away from a pollination disaster.”
- Dr. Jeff PettisVanEngelsdorp pointed to the Midwest's drought as being one of the possible factors, as the bees may have been forced to look to flowering crops for nectar rather than wildflowers, and those crops may have had "unusually high" levels of pesticides.
Also a potential factor, stated vanEngelsdorp, is the fact that high corn prices lead to cornfields replacing some prairie and shrubs.
In a separate report released last week by the USDA and EPA on honey bee health, multiple factors were cited as responsible for the declining bee population, including pesticides.
The study highlighted the need for bees for the nation's food security. With bee populations declining year after year, Pettis said, “We are one poor weather event or high winter bee loss away from a pollination disaster.”
Following the study, Paul Towers, media director with the Pesticide Action Network, told IPS that the EPA/USDA study shows that action does need to happen, and fast:
“The report makes a compelling case that multiple factors are at play and that we do need to take action, but this needs to be done far more quickly,” Paul Towers, media director with the Pesticide Action Network, an advocacy group, told IPS.
“The five-to-ten-year timeframe these agencies are now saying they will follow is not fast enough. In fact, there is great imperative here: bees are a clear indicator of the overall health of our agricultural system, so if we’re unable to protect the pollinators we’ll put our entire agricultural system at risk.”