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US bee losses drop but not enough

Colony loss from 1 October to 1 April. Blue area shows acceptable loss, as estimated by survey participants.

Source: USDA

America’s beekeepers lost nearly one-quarter of their colonies over the last winter — a dramatic improvement on previous years but still worse than what farmers consider sustainable rates.

Honeybee colonies across the world are under pressure from a variety of threats, including insecticide use, parasites and problems with food supply. In some parts of the world populations have been devastated by a poorly understood and nebulously defined ‘colony-collapse disorder’.

Today the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the results of an annual survey of farmed honeybees that it has been running for the past eight years to try and get a handle on the scale of the problem. Data from 7,183 beekeepers and 564,522 of the country’s 2.6 million colonies found that 23.2% of hives died over the 2013–14 winter.

In 2012–13 this figure was 30.5%. A loss of 18.9% was considered sustainable by those surveyed (some scientists believe 15% or even 10% should be the acceptable level).

“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,” said US agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement.

Earlier this year a European survey found loss rates ranging from 3.5% in Lithuania to 33.6% in Belgium.

Many environmental campaigners and some scientists blame bee losses on neonicotinoid pesticides — some of which have been banned in the European Union. Friends of the Earth said that today’s USDA figures showed the need to take similar action in the United States. Other researchers believe that parasites, diseases and changes in farming methods are also playing an important part in pollinator declines.




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