Honeybee population collapse continues: nearly one-quarter died over the winter; death rates 'unsustainable'

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(NaturalNews) During the 2012-2013 winter season, US bee populations plummeted by nearly a third (30.5 percent), raising serious questions. How can key vegetable crops survive and reproduce long-term as the pollinators disappear? Why aren't pesticides being rigorously studied for the damage they do to honeybee immune systems and their role in disrupting ecosystems?

With less pollination activity taking place, crops like apples, almonds, watermelons and beans suffer the most. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA_ estimates that honeybee pollination adds up to $15 billion dollars to the agriculture sector in the US.

"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," the USDA said in a recent statement.

23.2 percent of honey bees die during 2013-2014 winter season

When the 2013-2014 nationwide honeybee survey was released this spring, new numbers showed a bleak and "unsustainable" trajectory. The USDA expected honeybee losses of 18.9 percent but found out in the new report that honeybee populations have dwindled another 23.2 percent over the winter alone.

The head of the USDA, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, commented on the study, which was conducted in partnership with the Apiary Inspectors of America and the Bee Informed Partnership:

"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. 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."

Cold temperatures blamed for nearly 50 percent loss of honeybees in Maryland

Much of the blame for this year's honey bee die off is being pegged on record cold temperatures. Polar vortexes from the Arctic Circle blasted the Northeast this winter. In the study, farms in Maryland lost an average of 50 percent of honeybee populations.

When winter sets in, honeybee hives become inactive as the bees huddle together inside to form a winter cluster. These clusters usually put off enough warmth to self-regulate the cluster's temperature all winter long. The 2013-2014 winter season might have pushed the hives too far.

Bee health deteriorating due to mass application of neonicotinoids

A recent Harvard study released in May showed that both the hard winters and the mass application of neonicotinoid pesticides are putting too much pressure on the honey bee populations.
Neonicotinoid pesticides have been plaguing the bees for years, not only infiltrating through pollination, but also spurring the evolution of invasive mites that can weaken the bees and kill them off more readily.

Jerry Fischer, chief apiary inspector with the Maryland Department of Agriculture, reported that many of the bee colonies he inspected during the summer of 2013 didn't store up enough honey supplies. Something is slowing down the instinct and the ability of honeybee survival. Weed killers could possibly be limiting the potential of bees to survive, restricting their access to wildflowers. Furthermore, as genetically modified agriculture takes over wild flower prairies, bees are left in food deserts, as they buzz in and out of chemical-tainted fields.

"Yearly fluctuations in the rate of losses like these only demonstrate how complicated the whole issue of honey bee [health] 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, who co-authored this year's survey. Jeff Pettis is the leading researcher at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland.

Data from summer of 2013 raises bee die-off rate to 30 percent

The study not only focused on winter colony collapse but, for the first time, delved in and recorded deaths during the summer months of 2013. From April to October 2013, the honeybee colonies collapsed by an additional 20 percent. Apparently, it's not just the cold weather taking out the bees. After averaging die-offs from the summer and winter months, researchers estimate that the colony collapse continues yearly at the rate of 30 percent!

"We used to think that winter was the critical period," said study co-author Dennis vanEngelsdorp."But during our field studies, beekeepers told us they were also losing colonies in the summer months. So we expanded the survey and found that, in fact, colonies are dying all year round."

The trajectory is deeply concerning and unsustainable. Neonicotinoid producers like Monsanto, Bayer and DuPont blame the honeybee collapse on invasive mites. The pesticide manufactures are unwilling to come forward and test how these toxic pesticide products affect honeybee populations, ecosystems and the evolution of other pests.

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