Home Science US Honeybee populations fell 22.2% over the winter, but researchers say that...

US Honeybee populations fell 22.2% over the winter, but researchers say that could be good news 

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Beekeepers in the US lost 22.2% of their honeybee colonies during the winter. 

Though still a large figure, the news has given honeybee researchers hope that the massive bee population declines both in the US and around the world may be slowing.

The latest figures come from a survey of 3,377 commercial and hobbyist beekeepers around the US, conducted by Bee Informed Partnership, a coalition of research labs and universities committed to studying bees and advocating for their health.

FILE - In this Aug. 7, 2019, file photo, the queen bee (marked in green) and worker bees move around a hive at the Veterans Affairs in Manchester, N.H. The annual survey released Monday, June 22, 2020, of U.S. beekeepers found that honeybee colonies are doing better after a bad year. Monday's survey found winter losses were lower than normal, the second smallest in 14 years of records. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)

FILE – In this Aug. 7, 2019, file photo, the queen bee (marked in green) and worker bees move around a hive at the Veterans Affairs in Manchester, N.H. The annual survey released Monday, June 22, 2020, of U.S. beekeepers found that honeybee colonies are doing better after a bad year. Monday’s survey found winter losses were lower than normal, the second smallest in 14 years of records. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)

According to Bee Informed, the 2019-2020 winter declines were the second smallest in 14 years, and substantially less than the average loss rate of 28.6%.

Bee Informed’s Nathalie Steinhauer told the Associated Press that winter loss rates are ‘really the test of colony health,’ and the latest figures suggest that 2020 will be a ‘very good year for bees.’

Researchers attributed the lower loss rates to a mix of factors, including a milder temperatures and new colony management practices, such as leaving bees in refrigerated cold storage, which stops the queen bee from laying new eggs and insulates the bees from environmental threats. 

‘One would hope that a lower winter loss means a better 2020 assuming that the weather cooperates and beekeepers don’t end up skimping on colony management,’ University of Montana’s Jerry Bromenshenk told the AP. 

In the past, experts have estimated a healthy range for winter bee declines would be between 5% and 10%, while a loss rate of up to 15% to 20% could be tolerable during unseasonably harsh winters if they weren’t prolonged year-over-year.

In this Aug. 7, 2019, photo, a beekeeper holds a frame of honeybees as she instructs veterans at the VA's beehives in Manchester, N.H. The annual survey released Monday, June 22, 2020, of U.S. beekeepers found that honeybee colonies are doing better after a bad year. Monday's survey found winter losses were lower than normal, the second smallest in 14 years of records. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

In this Aug. 7, 2019, photo, a beekeeper holds a frame of honeybees as she instructs veterans at the VA’s beehives in Manchester, N.H. The annual survey released Monday, June 22, 2020, of U.S. beekeepers found that honeybee colonies are doing better after a bad year. Monday’s survey found winter losses were lower than normal, the second smallest in 14 years of records. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Over the last two decades, US figures have far exceeded those targets, and helped establish the US as the world leader in losing bees.

The 2018-19 winter saw one of the biggest honeybee losses on record with a 37.7% decline, close to double what experts said would have been an acceptable loss for the season.

There’s no individual explanation for the honeybee declines, but rather a series of threats have all seemed to worsen at the same time. 

FILE - In this Aug. 7, 2019, file photo, honeybees return to a hive at the Veterans Affairs in Manchester, N.H. The annual survey released Monday, June 22, 2020, of U.S. beekeepers found that honeybee colonies are doing better after a bad year. Monday's survey found winter losses were lower than normal, the second smallest in 14 years of records. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)

FILE – In this Aug. 7, 2019, file photo, honeybees return to a hive at the Veterans Affairs in Manchester, N.H. The annual survey released Monday, June 22, 2020, of U.S. beekeepers found that honeybee colonies are doing better after a bad year. Monday’s survey found winter losses were lower than normal, the second smallest in 14 years of records. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)

These include growing pesticide exposure, declining food sources, and new infectious diseases spread by mites and other small insects.

Experts feared that prolonged declines in bee populations could be a disaster for the global food chain, as honeybees are responsible for 80% of the world’s pollination, and 90% of the crops that provide the world nutrition.

‘It’s hard to imagine any other agricultural sector being able to stay in business with such consistently high losses.’ University of Maryland bee researcher Dennis vanEngelsdorp said in an interview in 2017. 

WHAT IS THE HONEYBEE CRISIS?

Honeybees, both domestic and wild, are responsible for around 80 per cent of worldwide pollination, according to Greenpeace.

But bee colony collapses across the globe are threatening their vital work.

Bees are dying from a combination of pesticides, habitat destruction, drought, nutrition deficit, global warming and air pollution among other factors.

The global bee crisis can potentially be solved if dangerous pesticides are eliminated, wild habitats are preserved and ecological agriculture is restored, according to Greenpeace (file photo)

The global bee crisis can potentially be solved if dangerous pesticides are eliminated, wild habitats are preserved and ecological agriculture is restored, according to Greenpeace (file photo)

Greenpeace has reported: ‘The bottom line is that we know humans are largely responsible for the two most prominent causes: Pesticides and habitat loss.’

This is important for a number of reasons, chief among them the amount of work bees put into our food production.

Vegetables, nuts and fruits are pollinated by bees. Of the top human food crops, a whopping 70 of 100 are pollinated by the creatures, which account for as much as 90 per cent of global nutrition.

Greenpeace has suggested the following solutions to the problem:

  • The preservation of wild habitats in order to protect pollinator health
  • The restoration of ecological agriculture
  • The elimination of the world’s most dangerous pesticides 

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