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American beekeepers lost almost half their bees over last 12 months

Finding a clear culprit in the disappearance of the pollinators has proven difficult.

By Brooks Hays
American beekeepers lost almost half their bees over last 12 months
In 2015 and 2016, beekeepers in the United States lost nearly half their colonies. Photo by Klaus Kreckler/Shutterstock

COLLEGE PARK, Md., May 12 (UPI) -- The losses associated with colony collapse disorder continued in 2015 and 2016.

A recent survey of American beekeepers found that 44 percent of honey bee colonies were lost between April 2015 and April 2016. Losses suffered during both winter and summer months were worse than those experienced in 2014 and 2015.

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"We're now in the second year of high rates of summer loss, which is cause for serious concern," Dennis vanEngelsdorp, an assistant professor of entomology at the University of Maryland, said in a news release. "Some winter losses are normal and expected. But the fact that beekeepers are losing bees in the summer, when bees should be at their healthiest, is quite alarming."

VanEngelsdorp is the co-author of a new paper on the loss totals, published in the journal Apidologie, and the director of Bee Informed Partnership, a program that encourages commercial and small-scale beekeepers to track bee survival and colony health.

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Finding a clear culprit in the disappearance of the pollinators has proven difficult. Researchers believe one of the main factors is the spread of the parasitic varroa mite. But like many mass die-offs, a combination of stressors are likely to blame -- including pesticides, malnutrition and changes in land use.

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Researchers believe the continued spread of varroa mites is being enabled by small-scale backyard beekeepers.

"Many backyard beekeepers don't have any varroa control strategies in place. We think this results in colonies collapsing and spreading mites to neighboring colonies that are otherwise well-managed for mites," said Nathalie Steinhauer, a graduate student in Maryland's entomology department. "We are seeing more evidence to suggest that good beekeepers who take the right steps to control mites are losing colonies in this way, through no fault of their own."

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Researchers with the Bee Informed Partnership are trying to ramp up their data collection efforts to help scientists get a better grasp on what's driving the poor health of bee colonies. The colonies of the beekeepers who participate in the annual survey comprise 15 percent 2.66 million managed honey bee colonies in the United States.

"The high rate of loss over the entire year means that beekeepers are working overtime to constantly replace their losses," concluded Jeffery Pettis, a senior entomologist at the USDA. "These losses cost the beekeeper time and money."

"More importantly, the industry needs these bees to meet the growing demand for pollination services," Pettis said. "We urgently need solutions to slow the rate of both winter and summer colony losses."

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