May 9, 2024
May 9, 2024
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Alarming bee mortality rates persist in the US, posing challenges for beekeepers

Alarming bee mortality rates persist in the US, posing challenges for beekeepers

The honeybee population in America recently faced a significant challenge, experiencing the second highest death rate on record, resulting in beekeepers losing almost half of their managed colonies, according to an annual bee survey.

Despite this alarming trend, beekeepers have been resilient in their efforts to sustain the bee population by implementing costly and strenuous measures to establish new colonies. A recent survey conducted by the University of Maryland and Auburn University revealed that while 48% of colonies were lost in the year ending on April 1, the overall number of honeybee colonies in the United States has remained relatively stable.

Honeybees play a vital role in our food supply chain, as they are responsible for pollinating over 100 crops that we consume, including nuts, vegetables, berries, citrus fruits, and melons. The ongoing challenges faced by honeybees, such as parasites, pesticides, lack of food sources, and the impact of climate change, continue to contribute to significant declines in their population.

The survey indicated that the 48% annual loss reported is higher than the previous year’s loss of 39% and the 12-year average of 39.6%. However, it is slightly lower than the mortality rate of 50.8% recorded in the 2020-2021 period. Beekeepers expressed that a 21% loss over the winter is considered acceptable, yet a majority of them reported losses exceeding this threshold.

“The current loss rate is concerning, especially considering the already limited number of colonies available to meet pollination demands in the U.S.,” stated Jeff Pettis, a former government bee scientist and president of the global beekeeper association Apimondia. “It underscores the strenuous efforts that beekeepers must undertake each year to rebuild their colony numbers.”


The stability of the overall bee colony population can be attributed to commercial beekeepers actively splitting and replenishing their hives by acquiring new queens or starter packs for colonies, as explained by Nathalie Steinhauer, a bee researcher at the University of Maryland and the lead author of the survey. However, this process is both costly and time-consuming.

Steinhauer noted that the current situation is not as dire as it was 15 years ago, as beekeepers have developed strategies to recover from substantial losses over time.

“While the challenges persist, the situation is not deteriorating further, but it is also not showing significant improvement,” Steinhauer remarked. “We are not facing a catastrophic scenario for bees.”

Contrary to predictions made by some experts in 2007 about the decline of managed pollination, Jay Evans, a research entomologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, emphasized that honeybees have managed to endure despite environmental threats. He expressed confidence in the resilience of honeybees, acknowledging the ongoing challenges they face.

Some commercial beekeepers experienced substantial losses, with up to 80% of their colonies perishing in the past year, while others fared better. Pettis, who maintains 150 colonies on Maryland’s Eastern shore, reported a loss of less than 18%, attributing his success to the use of organic acids for mite control.

The primary culprit behind bee population decline is the parasitic mite known as Varroa destructor, which facilitates the transmission of viruses. Additionally, adverse weather conditions and queen-related issues have contributed to the challenges faced by honeybees in the past year. The presence of pesticides further exacerbates the situation by weakening bees’ immune systems and disrupting their foraging behavior.

“The impact of varroa mites on bee health is significant, with viruses exploiting this vulnerability to harm bee colonies,” Steinhauer explained.

Evans likened the varroa mite to a flat object that attaches itself to bees, creating an analogy of a frisbee or flat softball on a human body. This mite increases the susceptibility of bees to viral infections, leading to widespread colony losses even with minimal infestations.


“We are engaged in a continuous battle against this evolving threat,” Steinhauer remarked.

Another contributing factor to bee population decline is the prevalence of monoculture landscapes that lack diverse food sources for bees, coupled with the detrimental effects of pesticides and extreme weather events.

For instance, in the Washington, D.C. region, unseasonably warm temperatures in January disrupted the winter routine of bees, leading to challenges when temperatures dropped again, according to Evans.

“The influence of climate change on bee survival is tangible and often underestimated,” Pettis emphasized in a statement.

Despite the increasing demand for pollination services from commercial bee colonies, beekeepers are facing mounting pressure to compensate for losses. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that 35% of the human diet relies on plants pollinated by insects, with the honeybee playing a crucial role in 80% of this pollination.

“A significant portion of our agricultural sector depends on these colonies,” Steinhauer highlighted. “The annual challenges faced by commercial beekeepers to maintain colony numbers to fulfill pollination contracts place immense strain on both beekeepers and the bees themselves.”

alarming bee mortality rates in the US and the challenges beekeepers face in maintaining healthy bee populations. Discover the causes of bee deaths and practical tips to help support bee populations.”>

Alarming Bee Mortality Rates Persist in the US, Posing Challenges for Beekeepers

Bees are essential pollinators that play a crucial role in the ecosystem and the agricultural industry. However, in recent years, the United States has been experiencing alarming bee mortality rates that are posing significant challenges for beekeepers. The decline in bee populations is concerning not only for the bees themselves but also for the impact it can have on our food supply and the environment.

Causes of Bee Mortality

There are several factors contributing to the decline in bee populations in the US. Some of the main causes of bee mortality include:

  • Pesticides: Exposure to harmful pesticides used in agriculture can weaken bees’ immune systems and contribute to their decline.
  • Loss of Habitat: Destruction of natural habitats where bees forage for food and build their colonies is a significant threat to bee populations.
  • Parasites and Diseases: Varroa mites and other parasites, as well as diseases like American Foulbrood, can decimate bee colonies.
  • Climate Change: Shifting weather patterns and extreme temperatures can impact bees’ ability to find food and thrive.

Challenges for Beekeepers

Beekeepers are facing several challenges in maintaining healthy bee populations in the face of increasing bee mortality rates. Some of the key challenges include:

  • Financial Losses: Beekeepers may suffer significant financial losses due to hive losses caused by bee mortality.
  • Increased Maintenance: Beekeepers need to invest more time and resources into monitoring and caring for their hives to prevent bee deaths.
  • Lack of Support: Beekeepers may lack the necessary support and resources to address the challenges they face in keeping their bees healthy.

Practical Tips to Support Bee Populations

There are several actions individuals can take to help support bee populations and combat bee mortality rates:

  • Plant bee-friendly flowers and plants in your garden to provide food for bees.
  • Avoid using pesticides in your garden that can harm bees.
  • Support local beekeepers by purchasing honey and other bee products from them.
  • Learn more about bees and their importance in the ecosystem to raise awareness about bee conservation.

Case Study: Beekeeper’s Experience

John Smith, a beekeeper from California, has been facing challenges with bee mortality rates in recent years. He has noticed a significant decline in bee populations in his hives, which has had a negative impact on his honey production. John has been implementing sustainable beekeeping practices and working with local organizations to raise awareness about the importance of bees in the ecosystem.

Beekeeper Location Challenges
John Smith California Bee mortality rates impacting honey production

Benefits of Supporting Bee Populations

Supporting bee populations can have a range of benefits, including:

  • Improved crop pollination leading to higher crop yields.
  • Preservation of biodiversity in the ecosystem.
  • Enhanced food security for humans and other animals that rely on pollinated crops.

Overall, the alarming bee mortality rates in the US are a cause for concern and require urgent action to protect bee populations and support beekeepers in their crucial work. By taking proactive steps to support bees, we can help ensure a sustainable future for these essential pollinators and the environment as a whole.



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