Last week's release of a joint USDA/EPA scientific report on honey bee health turned up no real surprises. Multiple factors play a role in honey bee colony declines.
As Acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe puts it, "The decline in honey bee health is a complex problem caused by a combination of stressors. At EPA, we are committed to continuing our work with USDA, researchers, beekeepers, growers and the public to address this challenge.
"We've made significant progress. But there's still much work to be done to protect the honey bee population."
Last October, a National Stakeholders Conference on Honey Bee Health, led by federal researchers and Pennsylvania State University scientists, was convened to gather the latest knowledge regarding the primary factors. In brief, here are the key finding:
Parasites and disease: Widespread chemical resistance by parasitic Varroa mites is the major factor underlying Colony Collapse Disorder losses. And, new disease virus species found in the U.S. have been associated with.
More genetic diversity needed: In short, too much inbreeding within honey bee colonies has weakened resistance to disease, reduced worker productivity. Genetic variation builds stronger bees. Breeding should emphasize traits such as hygienic behavior that confer improved resistance to Varroa mites and diseases such as American foulbrood.
Poor nutrition: A nutrition-poor diet makes bees more susceptible to all stress factors. Gut microbes in the bees play key roles in detoxification of chemicals and disease protection. Better forage and a variety of plants to support colony health.
No conclusion on pesticide risks: Acute and sub-lethal effects of pesticides on honey bees have been increasingly documented, and are a prime concern. But more research is required to establish pesticide exposure risks. The most pressing pesticide questions lie in determining the actual field-relevant pesticide exposure bees receive and the effects of pervasive exposure to multiple pesticides on health and productivity of whole colonies.There's a lot more detail in the 72-page report. You can skim through it on the Web.