The rate of decline among bee populations in the United States is beginning to ebb. However, the number of healthy bee colonies remains dangerously low and still faces significant hardship, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports.
A survey of beekeepers conducted annually by the USDA shows that there have been fewer colony loses this past winter compared to previous years. This is fantastic news for environmental experts who remain concerned about the prevalence of the nation's pollinators - as an estimated one out of every three bites of food consumed in America was produced with the help of a pollinator, according to the USDA.
However, honeybee keepers report that despite the good news, the rate of decline is still dangerously high, with 23.2 percent of all colonies nationwide dying off this winter. That is still far above the 18.9 percent that experts argue is an acceptable loss and will not disrupt the economic stability of the agriculture and honey markets.
Still, this year's loss is a significant improvement compared to the 29.6 percent average loss stretching over the eight years prior to 2013. Last year's winter alone resulted in a loss of 30.5 percent of all US colonies, prompting experts to investigate potential causes for this alarming population drop.
"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.
Recent research has even found evidence that implies that common pesticides may lead to a 50 percent chance of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) among honeybee hives. During the winter seasons, a colony affected with CCD will dissolve, causing a hive's entire population to leave their home only to die in the cold.
Some experts claim that CCD is the driving cause of the continued honeybee population decline seen since the early 2000s. However, the exact cause of the phenomenon remains unclear.
The USDA report was released on May 15.
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