U.S. honey bee colony losses have declined from 30.5 percent recorded over the winter of 2012-2013 to 23.2 percent over the winter of 2013-2014, according to a yearly survey of beekeepers.

That’s still not a small enough loss to keep the industry sustainable, bee keepers say, but does mar a significant improvement. The eight-year average annual loss is 29.6 percent. Beekeepers set 18.9 percent as a sustainable loss figure. This year, almost two-thirds of the beekeepers responding reported losses greater than the 18.9 percent threshold.

No one is certain why bee survival improved over last year.

There is no way to tell why the bees did better this year, according to both Jeff Pettis, co-author of the survey and research leader of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, and Dennis vanEngelsdorp, a University of Maryland assistant professor, leader of the survey and director of the Bee Informed Partnership.

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"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," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "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."

 

"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  Pettis.