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Parasites, pesticides, climate change linked to loss of honey bee colonies

About 43% of honey bee colonies were lost in the span of one year and for the first time researchers considered multiple factors that put a crucial part of the ecosystem at risk. File Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI
About 43% of honey bee colonies were lost in the span of one year and for the first time researchers considered multiple factors that put a crucial part of the ecosystem at risk. File Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 30 (UPI) -- About 43% of honey bee colonies were lost in the span of one year, according to a new study that considered multiple factors that put a crucial part of the ecosystem at risk.

Researchers at Penn State University say climate change, parasitic mites and pesticides are among the variables that are leading to the drastic loss of the honey bee population.

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From April 2019 to April 2020, about 43% of honey bee colonies were lost in the United States alone, the report published in Science Daily said.

"Honey bees are vital pollinators for more than 100 species of crops in the United States, and the widespread loss of honey bee colonies is increasingly concerning," said Luca Insolia, one of the authors of the study and a beekeeper.

About one-third of the U.S. food supply comes from crops pollinated by honey bees, according to the study. The loss of these busy pollinators could reverberate throughout the wildlife community, agriculture and the economy.

The research team included experts among several disciplines including statisticians and geographers. They relied on publicly available datasets related to honey bee colonies, agricultural practices and climate history between 2015 and 2021.

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Their findings illuminated the harmful impact of a parasitic mite called the Varroa destructor. The mites are known to reproduce within honey bee colonies, weakening the immune systems of bees and leaving them vulnerable to viruses.

The bee population is hit the hardest between January and March.

"These results also inform actions that beekeepers could take to help circumvent these stressors and protect their colonies, including treatments for the Varroa mite, especially in areas of weather instability," Insolia said.

"Beekeepers could also consider strategies to move their colonies to areas with high food availability or away from nearby pesticides or to provide supplementary food during certain seasons or months with frequent extreme weather events."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that the number of honey bee hives in the United States has decreased from 6 million to 2.5 million since the 1940s.

The Penn State research found a strong connection between bee colony loss and certain beekeeping practices categorized as "other." This category includes beehive destruction.

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