Maryland Beekeepers Ended 2016 with Another Year of Heavy Losses
March 1, 2017
Bee Friendly Apiary
If managed honeybee losses are this high, how do we think that wild native bee populations are faring? It may be difficult to know for sure, but managed populations are the only ones which beekeepers have regular access. If managed honeybees are facing difficulties, then it is reasonable to assume that wild native bee populations are suffering in similar ways.
In the magazine Science, Dr. David Goulson, Elizabeth Nicholls, Cristina Botías, and Ellen L. Rotheray published Bee Declines Driven by Combined Stress from Parasites, Pesticides, and Lack of Flowers, research suggesting possible ways to mitigate managed honeybee colony losses, including:
- Decline in the abundance and diversity of flowers,
- Exposure to a cocktail of agrochemicals, and
- Threats from novel parasites accidentally spread by humans.
Climate change is likely to exacerbate these problems. Stressors to bee populations do not act in isolation. For example, pesticide exposure can impair both detoxification mechanisms and immune responses, rendering bees more susceptible to parasites. It seems certain that chronic exposure to multiple interacting stressors is driving honey bee colony losses and declines of wild pollinators, but such interactions are not addressed by current regulatory procedures. Studying these interactions experimentally poses a major challenge.
In the meantime, taking steps to reduce stress on bees would seem prudent. Incorporating flower-rich habitats into farmland, reducing pesticide use through adopting more sustainable farming methods, and enforcing effective quarantine measures on bee movements are all practical measures that should be adopted. Effective monitoring of wild pollinator populations is urgently needed to inform management strategies into the future.
Beekeepers here in Maryland have very tough decisions to make. Our current track record for managed honeybee losses is abysmal, in fact the entire Mid-Atlantic region is suffering from catastrophic honeybee loss in managed colonies. Do we make much needed corrections to our management of our colonies or pursue the “same ol’ same ol’” and continue to pay for replacement colonies, which in many cases only exacerbates the situation?
We can make things better for pollinators and give them the best possible chance for survival, but in order to do that, we must all act together to see those changes come to fruition.