About one-third of what we eat directly or indirectly benefits from honey bee pollination (Kaplan). Food crops such as almonds, blueberries, cherries, and melon depend on honey bees for pollination to produce their fruits. Other crops would yield significantly less without honey bee pollination. According to the American Beekeeping Federation, honey bees contribute more than $14 billion to the value of U.S. crop production in the form of increased yields and high-quality crops for growers and consumers (Needham).
In the winter of 2006, some beekeepers in the United States reported losing 30 to 90 percent of their hives, unusually high percentages of loss. Beekeepers and scientists investigated the colonies and discovered that nearly 50 percent had common symptoms that included the sudden disappearance of the colony’s worker bees, though very few dead bees could be found near the colony. The queen bee and young bees remained, and the colonies had plenty of honey and pollen reserves. However, a colony without enough worker bees cannot sustain itself, so the findings were alarming. The scientists studying the problem called it Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) (Loy).
In 2007, the National Research Council published a report documenting the decline of pollinators, including bees, birds, bats, and insects (Board on Life Sciences). The report identified factors putting stress on bees and possibly contributing to CCD, including pests, poor nutrition, exposure to pesticides, bee management practices, and low genetic diversity.
As researchers began to identify problems for bee colonies and develop measures to improve bee health and habitat, beekeepers began applying their recommendations. For example, varroa mites are a significant threat to bee colonies. They kill bees directly and spread disease to others. Because varroa mites did not appear in the United States until the 1980s, beekeepers only recently began using treatments to combat the mites. These treatments are now part of regular beekeeping practices (Kaplan).
Proper nutrition and diet can help bees withstand threats such as varroa mites and pesticides. “Bees need a varied diet of different pollens in order to grow into strong, healthy workers,” explains Dr. Heather Mattila, a biologist at Wellesley College (Hall). Meadows, prairies, and other expanses of wildflowers are the best sources of pollen. Beekeepers can also provide pollen supplements to help restore and sustain bee colonies.
As a result of research and efforts by scientists, government agencies, beekeepers, and farmers, reported cases of CCD in the United States have declined substantially over the last five years (Sullivan 12). The primary gauge of bee health is winter survival, the number of hives that survive over the winter months. Although still higher than desired, the percentage of lost colonies dropped recently from 28.7 percent to 23.1 percent. Of these, only 30 percent were attributed to CCD.
Because honey bees are biological indicators, meaning that their health reflects the general health of the environment, these trends are good news for all Americans.
Board on Life Sciences. “Status of Pollinators in North America (2007).” 23 January 2007. National Research Council. <www.nap.edu>.
Hall, Gary. “Dissappearing Bees.” Time 30 May 2018: 24. Print.
Kaplan, Kim. Honey Bee Health and Colony Collapse Disorder. 12 February 2019. Electronic. 3 March 2019. <http://www.ars.usda.gov/News/docs.htm?docid=15572#public>.
Loy, Jason. Threats to Bees. 8 May 2018. Electronic. 2 March 2019.
Needham, Bruce. Pollination Facts. 19 November 2018. 2 March 2019. <http://www.abfnet.org/>.
Sullivan, Megan. Colony Collapse Disorder. 2 March 2019. <http://www2.epa.gov/pollinator-protection/colony-collapse-disorder#why it is happening>.