US agencies release new report on disappearing honeybees

New report on health of honeybees

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency Thursday released a new scientific report on the health of honeybees. Honeybees pollinate one third of everything humans eat, from lettuce to asparagus, zucchini, and other fruits and vegetables.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Thursday released a scientific report on honeybee health.

"There are multiple factors playing a role in honey bee colony declines, including parasites and disease, genetics, poor nutrition and pesticide exposure," the agencies said in a news release. 

The extensive report comes from an October 2012 conference on the health of honey bees. 

Officials said while progress has been made in understanding the factors responsible for the decline of honeybees, more work remains. 

Key findings include: (from EPA and USDA news release)

Parasites and Disease Present Risks to Honey Bees:

The parasitic Varroa mite is recognized as the major factor underlying colony loss in the U.S. and other countries. There is widespread resistance to the chemicals beekeepers use to control mites within the hive. New virus species have been found in the U.S. and several of these have been associated with Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

Increased Genetic Diversity is Needed:

U.S. honeybee colonies need increased genetic diversity. Genetic variation improves bees thermoregulation (the ability to keep body temperature steady even if the surrounding environment is different), disease resistance and worker productivity.
Honey bee breeding should emphasize traits such as hygienic behavior that confer improved resistance to Varroa mites and diseases (such as American foulbrood).

Poor Nutrition Among Honey Bee Colonies:

Nutrition has a major impact on individual bee and colony longevity. A nutrition-poor diet can make bees more susceptible to harm from disease and parasites. Bees need better forage and a variety of plants to support colony health.
Federal and state partners should consider actions affecting land management to maximize available nutritional forage to promote and enhance good bee health and to protect bees by keeping them away from pesticide-treated fields.

There is a Need for Improved Collaboration and Information Sharing:

Best Management Practices associated with bees and pesticide use, exist, but are not widely or systematically followed by members of the crop-producing industry. There is a need for informed and coordinated communication between growers and beekeepers and effective collaboration between stakeholders on practices to protect bees from pesticides.
Beekeepers emphasized the need for accurate and timely bee kill incident reporting, monitoring, and enforcement.

Additional Research is Needed to Determine Risks Presented by Pesticides:

The most pressing pesticide research questions relate to determining actual pesticide exposures and effects of pesticides to bees in the field and the potential for impacts on bee health and productivity of whole honey bee colonies.

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