People all around the world enjoy getting outside and experiencing nature. In fact, there were about 30 million paid fishing license holders in the U.S. alone in 2018. But as enjoyable and important as all of nature is, honey bees play an integral role. And a new study has found that during the winter of 2017-18, the number of honey bee colonies decreased by 16% throughout 36 countries.
The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Strathclyde and looked at data from 25,363 beekeepers. The beekeepers were in 33 European countries, Israel, Algeria, and Mexico.
The data showed that at the start of the winter, there were 544,879 total colonies. And by the end of the season, 89,124 colonies were lost. Reasons the colonies were lost ranged from weather conditions, natural disasters, and even problems with a colony’s queen.
Furthermore, the researchers found that when beekeepers relocated their colonies, giving them access to forage or for pollinating purposes, they saw fewer losses. Additionally, smaller beekeeping organizations saw higher losses than those with more bees and resources.
According to Alison Gray, a lecturer in Strathclyde’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics and lead author of the study, “Loss of honey bee colonies is a highly complex issue. It tends to be influenced less by overall climate than by specific weather patterns or a natural disaster affecting the colony. We observe colonies in winter but what happens to the bees then can be partly determined by the conditions of the previous summer… The impact of beekeepers migrating their colonies would be expected to be partly dependent on the distance traveled and the reasons for migration; this would be worth further investigation.”
Some areas experienced minor losses, like Israel, Serbia, and Belarus, all of which experienced losses below 10%. But other areas were not so lucky — Italy, England, Portugal, and Northern Ireland all saw losses higher than 25%. With Ireland alone being 32,595 square miles big, these large countries saw drastic losses which could greatly impact their overall ecosystems.
The study focused on a variety of sources of forage, or plants that bees can collect pollen and nectar from. They were broken down into six groups: heather, autumn forage crops, orchards, maize, sunflower, and oilseed rape. Beekeepers who gave their bees better access to these sources were the ones who saw a lowered fall in colony numbers. Without easy access to forage options, bee losses during the winter months were seen to be more likely.
Bee numbers are dropping all around the world due to a variety of causes — weather and bee health are certainly concerns, along with the destruction of habitats and global warming. And while people are doing more to help the environment, like how more than one-third of paper is now made from recycled fiber, there are some factors that people can simply not control.
This study was conducted by researchers as part of the colony loss monitoring group of the international honey bee research association and has been published in the Journal of Agricultural Research.