The preliminary results of the 2013–14 report on overwinter colony loss amongst U.S. honeybees have been announced by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The report shows that while die-offs were not as bad as the previous winter, they are still at levels considered too high, confirmed Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. To compound the issue, researchers aren’t sure why there was a slight improvement this year, making it impossible to predict or influence results for next winter.
The report has been prepared collaboratively by the Bee Informed Partnership, the Apiary Inspectors of America and the USDA. It is based on the observations of 7,183 beekeepers across the U.S., representing 21.7 percent of the country’s 2.6 million colonies. Last winter, 23.2 percent of the surveyed honeybee colonies died. This is an improvement on the previous winter’s figure of 30.5 percent and the eight-year average total loss of 29.6 percent. However, it is still well above respondents’ self-reported acceptable winter mortality rate of 18.9 percent, which is the level required for the apiaries to remain economically sustainable.
According to the USDA’s statement, “more than three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants rely on pollinators, such as bees, to reproduce, meaning pollinators help produce one out of every three bites of food Americans eat.” With studies continuing to point to neonicotinoid pesticides as the cause of increased hive mortality rates, and last year’s two-year suspension on the use of three neonicotinoids by the the European Union, the pressure is on to confirm the mechanisms responsible in order to reverse the trend. “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,” said Secretary Vilsack. The full report is expected to be released in the near future.
In its statement the USDA also announced the launch of its new “bee cam,” available via its BeeWatch portal. The portal is part of the USDA’s public awareness campaign on the reduction of bee populations and actions the public can take to support the recovery of pollinator populations. The bee cam streams from the People’s Garden Apiary located on the roof of the Jamie L. Whitten Building at USDA Headquarters in Washington, DC.