US beekeepers continue to report high colony loss rates, no clear progression toward improvement
Annual Bee Informed Partnership survey results show the continuing cycle of high honey bee colony turnover, with beekeepers and researchers hoping to find solutions
Josh Woods | College of Agriculture
Geoff Williams, Auburn assistant professor of entomology and apiology, inspects brood cells, or “mother cells,” in a bee colony. Beekeepers across the United States lost 45.5% of their managed honey bee colonies from April 2020 to April 2021, according to preliminary results of the 15th annual nationwide survey conducted by the nonprofit Bee Informed Partnership
Beekeepers across the United States lost 45.5% of their managed honey bee colonies from April 2020 to April 2021, according to preliminary results of the 15th annual nationwide survey conducted by the nonprofit Bee Informed Partnership, or BIP.
These losses mark the second highest loss rate the survey has recorded since it began in 2006 (6.1 percentage points higher than the average annual loss rate of 39.4%). The survey results highlight the continuing high rates of honey bee colony turnover. The high loss rate was driven by both elevated summer and winter losses this year, with no clear progression toward improvement for beekeepers and their colonies. BIP hopes to use the survey results to better understand how colony losses are experienced by beekeepers, and what can be done to reduce losses in future seasons.
Since beekeepers began noticing higher losses in their colonies in the early 2000s, agricultural agencies, researchers, and the beekeeping industry have been working together to understand why and develop best management practices to reduce their losses. The BIP annual colony loss survey, which has been conducted since 2006, has been integral to that process.
“This year’s survey results show that colony losses are still high,” said Nathalie Steinhauer, BIP’s science coordinator and a postdoctoral researcher in the University of Maryland Department of Entomology. “Not all beekeepers are affected at the same intensity, but the turnover rate of colonies is still overall higher than beekeepers deem acceptable [normal or acceptable turnover is defined at about 20%]. We should remember, however, that loss rates are not the same as population decline. The recent numbers of honey bee colonies in the U.S. are relatively stable despite those high losses, but that’s because beekeepers invest a lot of time and effort to increase their operation size to mitigate their losses.”
Commercial honey bee operations are essential to agricultural production in the U.S., pollinating $15 billion worth of food crops each year. Honey bee colonies are moved around the country to pollinate important agricultural crops such as almonds, blueberries, and apples. Minimizing their losses and ensuring the health of both commercial and backyard colonies is critical to food production and supply.
“Beekeepers of all types consistently lose a high number of colonies each year, which puts a heavy burden on
many of them to recoup those losses in time for major pollination events like California almonds,” said Geoffrey Williams, assistant professor of entomology at Auburn University and co-author of the survey. “Colony losses
remain elevated, and this year’s annual and summer loss rates are among the highest recorded.”
This past year, winter losses were reported at 32.2%, which is 9.6 percentage points higher than last year and
3.9 points higher than the survey average. Summer losses were some of the highest ever reported again this year at 31.1%, which is 0.9 percentage points lower than last year, but 8.6 points higher than the survey average.
The survey asks beekeeping operations of all sizes to track the survival or turnover rates of their honey bee colonies. This year, 3,347 beekeepers managing 192,384 colonies across the country responded to the survey, representing about 7% of the nation’s estimated 2.71 million managed colonies. This effort helps to keep a finger on the pulse of what is going on with beekeepers to identify why high losses are persisting.
“Though we see fluctuations from year to year, the worrisome part is we see no progression towards a reduction of losses,” said Steinhauer.
To read the complete article go to;