By: Shayne Madella
The University of Maryland media outlet for Terrapin research and news,UMD Right Now, recently published a video news report on research that is occurring here, at the Honey Bee Research Lab and the Bee Informed Partnership (BIP). As many in beekeeping and the apiculture research field may know, honey bees have been suffering increased losses over the past decade in numbers that have been exceeding 30% to 40% of all colonies in the nation each year. The results from the 2014 – 2015 National Colony Loss Survey have indicated that for the first time, beekeepers have suffered larger losses in the winter than in the summer. This is especially unusual considering summer is the period of time when available forage and food has been the most abundant, and honey bee colonies have been traditionally the healthiest. Considering that one in every three bites of food consumed is derived from sources that are directly or indirectly provided through pollination, this is not good news.
For centuries, honey bees have been used and bred by humans. The most visible benefit of their domestication has been the production of honey that has been used to sweeten food and provide a carbohydrate source for human nutrition. However, a more vital role of honey bees has been the often unseen pollination services that they have provided our agriculture, which is then used to feed billions. With honey bees being considered a sentinel species their losses each year have become even more troubling. A sentinel species is one whose abundance and population dynamics is indicative of the overall health of other species and the biodiversity of a specific environment. The even larger concern is that the loss of honey bees may be a warning that the overall environmental health is out of balance.
As has been show in the video produced by UMD Right Now, our lab is conducting research with beekeepers through the National Colony Loss and Management Survey, run by graduate student Nathalie Steinhauer. The goal of the project is to find out what management practices employed by beekeepers are resulting in the lowest colony losses. With this data, our lab can then create data models that we can use to provide beekeepers with the best management practices that will result in fewer colony losses.
The research at our lab through the National Loss and Management Survey is ongoing and each year we release reports to beekeepers on the colony loss results for each management practice. Our idea is that by working closely with beekeepers and communicating their results in a timely manner, we can help reduce colony losses for beekeepers.