Honeybee Colonies Collapsing At Alarming Rate

  • Preliminary survey results indicate that 31.1% of managed honeybee colonies in the United States were lost during the 2012/2013 winter. Photo: John Swanlund / flickr

May 10, 2013

Many crops—especially fruits and nuts—depend on bees to pollinate their flowers. New estimates from the multidisciplinary Bee Informed Partnership, in collaboration with the nonprofit Apiary Inspectors of America and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, shed light on the growing crisis of the loss of honeybees from colony collapse disorder.

New estimates peg bee colony losses at nearly 38 percent last year in Pennsylvania. A preliminary estimate released this week indicates that this year’s bee loss will be even more severe.

Stephen Repasky, President of the educational beekeeping group Burgh Bees, says declining bee populations have serious economic consequences for Pennsylvania farmers.

"You’re looking at millions of dollars lost in revenue from the lack of pollination of crops. People are scrambling hard to rent bee colonies in order to get the pollination that they need," he says.

Until this year, colony collapse disorder was a problem that mainly affected rural beehives. However, suburban and urban bee colonies were also hit this year, the first time that this has happened in the Pittsburgh area.

"You’re hearing reports of up to 50 to 70 percent loss in some areas," Repasky says.

A recent USDA/EPA study cites a variety of factors for bee declines like parasitic mites, lack of genetic diversity, and poor nutrition in honeybee colonies.

Many beekeepers, including Repasky, say that pesticides are also a significant factor in bee loss, and the European Union just banned a class of nicotine-based pesticides in order to protect bees. However, the EPA says that further studies are needed to prove that pesticides are dangerous to bees.

According to Repasky, the need to fix the problem is urgent.

"We're in trouble. I believe we’re in crisis mode already," he says.