Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) continues to be a problem, as beekeepers about the United States lost about 20 percent of their populations over the winter. Although traumatic, this reduction is less severe than it has been in previous years.
Bees are dying over the course of winter months when they leave their hives and freeze. No one is sure of the cause yet, although various theories have been suggested. Latest study blames neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides, chemically similar to nicotine. Varroa mites are also blamed by some biologists for the mass deaths.
Dennis vanEngelsdorp of the University of Maryland, led a national investigation into bee colony losses over the winter of 2013-2014. The study examined colonies managed by 7,183 beekeepers across the nation, between October 2013 and April 2014.
"If there is one thing beekeepers can do to help with this problem, it is to treat their bees for varroa mites. If all beekeepers were to aggressively control mites, we would have many fewer losses," vanEngelsdorp said.
Unlike previous years, colony managers also saw a reduction in population of their bees during the summer.
"We used to think winter was the critical period. But during our field studies, beekeepers told us they were also losing colonies in the summer months. So we expanded the survey and found that in fact, colonies are dying all year round," vanEngelsdorp stated in a university press release.
Bees are essential for global food supplies. Around one-third of all crops consumed by humans are pollinated by the insects.
Although a one-year of reduction of mortality is not cause to believe CCD is becoming less common, the 20 percent loss is just above normal.
Entomologists are furiously searching for the underlying cause of widespread deaths among honeybees. Colony Collapse Disorder was first noted nearly a decade ago.
"Healthy pollinator populations are critical to the continued economic well-being of agricultural producers. 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," Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture, said.
In an effort to raise awareness about the loss of honeybees, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) lately launched a "Bee Watch" website, broadcasting continuous video of honeybee activity.
There are roughly 2.6 million commercial honeybee colonies across the United States. This new survey examined data from around 22 percent of these hives. A detailed analysis of the study will be published later this year.