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Study: China losing fewer honey bees than United States

Scientists suggest the diminished loss rates may be explained by the greater genetic diversity among China's honey bee populations.

By
Brooks Hays
Beekeepers in China are losing a much smaller number of colonies than are beekeepers in the U.S. and Europe. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI
Beekeepers in China are losing a much smaller number of colonies than are beekeepers in the U.S. and Europe. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI | License Photo

BEIJING, Aug. 24 (UPI) -- According to a new survey, beekeepers in China are losing fewer honey bees each winter than their peers in the West.

For the last decade, scientists have struggled to uncover the origins of colony collapse disorder among honey bees, but most research and monitoring work has focused on honey bees in Europe and the United States.

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The largest population of honey bees isn't found in the United States or Europe, however; it's in China, where beekeepers manage more than 6 million colonies.

Beginning in 2010, researchers from the Institute of Apicultural Research at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences began sending out questionnaires to beekeepers in China. Between 2010 and 2013, they collected 3,090 responses -- the first survey of its kind in China.

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The survey data suggests beekeepers in China are losing colonies at a much lower rate than their peers in the United States and Europe. Though rates varied depending on the year, location and size of the beekeeping operation, average losses were barely more than 10 percent.

Compare that to the United States, where beekeepers lost nearly half their colonies in 2015.

Scientists suggest the diminished loss rates may be explained by the greater genetic diversity among China's honey bee populations. China also boasts a larger number of small beekeeping operations, allowing beekeepers to keep a closer eye on the health of their colonies and protect them from invading pests like the parasitic varroa mite.

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Researchers compiled the new beekeeping data in a paper published this week in the Journal of Apicultural Research.

"For the first time we now have a good picture of honey bee colony losses in China, the world's biggest beekeeping country," Norman Carreck, science director at the International Bee Research Association, said in a news release. "Further studies of why losses there appear to be relatively low may assist our understanding of widespread colony losses elsewhere."

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