Nearly one in three commercial honeybee colonies in the United States died or disappeared last winter, an unsustainable decline that threatens the nation’s food supply.
Multiple factors — pesticides, fungicides, parasites, viruses and malnutrition — are believed to cause the losses, which were officially announced today by a consortium of academic researchers, beekeepers and Department of Agriculture scientists.
“We’re getting closer and closer to the point where we don’t have enough bees in this country to meet pollination demands,” said entomologist Dennis vanEngelstorp of the University of Maryland, who led the survey documenting the declines.
“If we want to grow fruits and nuts and berries, this is important,” said vanEngelstorp. “One in every three bites [of food consumed in the U.S.] is directly or indirectly pollinated by bees.”
Scientists have raced to explain the losses, which fall into different categories.
- Colony collapse disorder.
- Neonicotinoids make bees more vulnerable to disease.
- Varroa destructor mites weaken bees by sucking their hemolyph, the insect analogue of blood, and also transmit .
- Nosema ceranae parasite.
- viruses and other parasites transmitted by the Varroa mites
“Thinking of honeybees as our canary in the coal mine, a monitor for environmental conditions, is very appropriate,” Cox-Foster said. “With honeybee colonies, you have the ability to open them up and see what’s going on. There are many other species needed for pollination, but with most of those, we don’t have the ability to see what’s happening.”