Nearly 40% decline in honey bee population last winter 'unsustainable,' experts say

Scientists are researching the potential consequences of the rapid decline of the honey bee population in the U.S. and how to mitigate its effects before it causes dire problems for crop management and production.

Honey bees are essential for the pollination of flowers, fruits and vegetables, and support about $20 billion worth of crop production in the U.S. annually, Matthew Mulica, senior project manager at the Keystone Policy Center, a consulting company that works with the Honey Bee Health Coalition, told ABC News.

Worldwide, honey bees and other pollinators help to produce about $170 billion in crops, Scott McArt, assistant professor of pollinator health at Cornell University, told ABC News.

“Honey bees are one of the most important agricultural commodities in the country,” Geoff Williams, an assistant professor of entomology at Auburn University who also serves on the board of directors for the Bee Informed Partnership, told ABC News.

 

Over the past 15 years, bee colonies have been disappearing in what is known as the “colony collapse disorder,” according to National Geographic. Some regions have seen losses of up to 90%, the publication reported.

Data shows bee populations dwindling more and more each year

Between Oct. 1, 2018, and April 1, 2019, 37.7% of the managed honey bee population — colonies kept by commercial beekeepers — declined, which is 7 percentage points more than the same time frame during the 2017-2018 winter, according to preliminary data from the Bee Informed Partnership, a nonprofit associated with the University of Maryland.

This past winter season represents the highest level of winter losses reported since the survey began in 2006, according to the report.

For the entire year — April 1, 2018, to April 1, 2019 — the managed bee population decreased by 40.7%, according to the report. The overall loss rate is around the average of what researchers and beekeepers have seen since 2006, McArt said.

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