Uncovering the drivers of honey bee colony declines and losses

Scientists have announced the results of research conducted on honey bee colony declines and the factors attributed to honey bee losses. In a paper published this week in the journal EcoHealth, scientists at EcoHealth Alliance investigated the causes of long-term declines of colony numbers and annual colony losses. The work shows that socioeconomic and political pressures on honey production over the past few decades has caused a long-term reduction in the number of colonies in production in the USA, Europe and many other countries. However, more recently honey bee managers have reported increased losses in their stocks each year (so-called ‘annual colony losses’), and the new research shows that pests, pathogens and management issues likely play a major role in this, and are under researched and poorly understood drivers.Honey bees provide ecosystem services through pollination of crops worth $215 billion annually worldwide. Concern over honey bee declines in recent decades as well as annual losses has sparked debate over their causes and has led to hypotheses that a specific novel syndrome ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’ (CCD) is plaguing bee populations. Many scientists have proposed new drivers such as pollution from pesticides as the cause of these declines. EcoHealth Alliance conducted an in-depth, critical review of the science behind these declines and losses and have shown that:1. The long-term multi-decadal downward trend in the number of bee colonies in many countries reflects a reduction in the profitability of bee keeping due to economic and/or political change, with many bee keepers leaving the profession;2. Data on annual losses is sparse and collected in a non-uniform way that makes comparing the extent and potential cause of losses to those in previous years difficult3. That there are significant inconsistencies with the way researchers (and thus potentially bee keepers) define CCD, suggesting that it may be over-reported; and4. …

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