Study reveals honey bee colony survival depends on beekeeper education and disease control

A research article from the EPILOBEE Consortium has reported on honey bee population decline.

The authors of the pan-European epidemiological study said that reports of honey bee population decline had spurred many national efforts to understand the extent of the problem and to identify causative or associated factors.

"However, our collective understanding of the factors has been hampered by a lack of joined up trans-national effort. Moreover, the impacts of beekeeper knowledge and beekeeping management practices have often been overlooked, despite honey bees being a managed pollinator. Here, we established a standardised active monitoring network for 5,798 apiaries over two consecutive years to quantify honey bee colony mortality across 17 European countries.

"Our data demonstrate that overwinter losses ranged between 2% and 32%, and that high summer losses were likely to follow high winter losses. Multivariate Poisson regression models revealed that hobbyist beekeepers with small apiaries and little experience in beekeeping had double the winter mortality rate when compared to professional beekeepers. Furthermore, honey bees kept by professional beekeepers never showed signs of disease, unlike apiaries from hobbyist beekeepers that had symptoms of bacterial infection and heavy Varroa infestation. Our data highlight beekeeper background and apicultural practices as major drivers of honey bee colony losses. The benefits of conducting trans-national monitoring schemes and improving beekeeper training are discussed."

The researchers concluded: "Our results show that the main factors protecting honey bee colonies are beekeeper background and practices. More efforts are needed in beekeeper training to promote good beekeeping practices and achieve early identification of clinical signs of disease. Considerable variation of colony losses exist across different Member States and between years. Climate conditions might have a strong effect on colony mortality during the whole year, requiring long term surveillance study to overcome the weather factor. Data from descriptive survey such as EPILOBEE should be used to set up dedicated protocols to study further targeted hypotheses. The promotion of regional scale studies of local practices should be encouraged. Further to this work, the causes of colony losses should be investigated by conducting studies on specific issues as potential causes of honey bee losses, for example case-control studies that include pesticide analyses and landscape recording."

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