Yearly Survey Shows Better Results for Bees, but Losses Remain Significant

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While this article isn't about horses, it is about those who own or manage horse farms being good stewards of the land. Read at the bottom of this article how to plant a "pollinator" garden that can help bee populations in your area stay healthier.

A yearly survey of beekeepers shows fewer colony losses occurred in the United States over the winter of 2013-2014 than in recent years, but beekeepers say losses remain higher than the level that they consider to be sustainable. According to survey results, total losses of managed honey bee colonies from all causes were 23.2% nationwide. That number is above the 18.9% level of loss that beekeepers say is acceptable for their economic sustainability, but is a marked improvement over the 30.5% loss reported for the winter of 2012-2013, and over the eight-year average loss of 29.6%.

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. (Check below to see how you can add a "pollinator garden" to help bees in your area.)

"Pollinators, such as bees, birds and other insects, are essential partners for farmers and ranchers and help produce much of our food supply. Healthy pollinator populations are critical to the continued economic well-being of agricultural producers," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "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."

There is no way to tell why the bees did better this year, according to both Pettis and Dennis vanEngelsdorp, a University of Maryland assistant professor who is the leader of the survey and director of the Bee Informed Partnership. Although the survey, conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Maryland Bee Informed Partnership shows improvement, losses remain above the level that beekeepers consider to be economically sustainable. This year, almost two-thirds of the beekeepers responding reported losses greater than the 18.9% threshold.

"Yearly fluctuations in the rate of losses like these only demonstrate how complicated the whole issue of honey bee heath has become, with factors such as viruses and other pathogens, parasites like varroa mites, problems of nutrition from lack of diversity in pollen sources, and even sublethal effects of pesticides combining to weaken and kill bee colonies," said Jeff Pettis, co-author of the survey and research leader of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland. ARS is USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency.

The winter losses survey covers the period from October 2013 through April 2014. About 7,200 beekeepers responded to the voluntary survey.

A complete analysis of the bee survey data will be published later this year. The summary of the analysis is at http://beeinformed.org/results-categories/winter-loss-2013-2014/.

How to Garden for Pollinators

Increase the number of pollinators in your area by choosing plants that provide essential habitat and food sources for birds, bats, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, wasps, small mammals, and most importantly, bees. Supporting pollinators is not hard to do. Start by following these simple steps to create a pollinator-friendly garden:

  • Go Native - plant native plant species
  • Bee Showy - flowers should bloom in your garden throughout the growing season
  • Bee Bountiful - plant big patches of each plant species
  • Bee Diverse - plant a diversity of flowering species that supply an abundance of pollen and nectar
  • Bee Chemical Free - limit or eliminate use of pesticides

Watch this webinar on Pollinators for Your Garden for expert advice on how to create a successful pollinator garden.

How can you find pollinator-friendly native plants for your garden?

The Pollinator Partnership offers 32 different planting guides to improve pollinator habitat, each one tailored to a specific ecoregion in the United States. Each guide is filled with an abundance of native plant and pollinator information. Enter your zip code to find your ecoregion planting guide and download it for free.