Two Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) surveys have been completed and the data is being slowly released as it is being analyzed. One (384 surveys from 13 states) was conducted by The Apiary Inspectors Of America (AIA), the other by the private research group working on CCD, Bee Alert Technology Inc. (BeeTech). The second included 625 surveys from 43 states and 5 provinces. Most appealing is that this group had nearly 70 beekeeping operations with 10,000 or more colonies.
Unfortunately the two groups used different criteria and asked somewhat different questions so comparing the results isn't easy, but some trends emerged from both that are telling. Two thirds of the respondents to the BeeTech survey operate fewer than 100 colonies, while 90% have fewer than 1,000. The AIA survey shows about 90% have fewer than 500 colonies (there is an East Coast bias with this survey in the locations of operations). Though not quite the same, this makes it easy to see that most beekeepers don't have thousands of colonies, but exact numbers are not clear from these surveys. Data from earlier surveys by other groups indicates that the BeeTech data perhaps shows a more balanced picture since they have more data points.
Interestingly, both surveys show that it was the smaller operations that suffered the highest percent loss from CCD as opposed to larger operations, as first suspected by almost everybody. However, the math still wins since an 80% loss of colonies in an operation of only 250 colonies (200 total colonies lost), is still far less than even a normal 15% loss from an operation of 10,000 colonies (1,500 colonies lost). And since some of these mega-large operations lost 75 â 90% of their colonies, they really add to the loss picture. The AIA survey examined the types of losses beekeepers suffered, covering weather, starvation, too weak in the fall, pests, and poor quality queens. The BeeTech survey included more specific causes, but they are comparable to the first survey.
Weather-related colony starvation was a big (non CCD) factor last year everywhere, and the more these losses are looked at the bigger role bad weather seems to play. Drought in the late summer and fall played havoc with pollen production and many colonies went into winter with far less than adequate food supplies. Pollen, you'll recall, is the protein source that adult bees feed to developing bees, especially during the rapid growth spurt colonies have in the spring. If there are inadequate pollen supplies or the quality of pollen is low, the young are the first to suffer. This seems to be the case in lots of lost colonies last winter. But it's not CCD.
Overall from the AIA survey, about 45% of the colonies lost last year were lost to CCD, while 25% of the colonies lost last year were lost to other causes. Still, 25% is a chunk. Imagine a dairy farm losing 25% of their milk cows in a single winter. There would be wailing and gnashing of teeth in the halls of Congress ... and in the grocery stores, that's for certain. Make it 45% and you'd have a crisis!
The BeeTech survey showed similar results though they were more refined because they had many more respondents from more states, and a more diverse group of beekeepers. Still, the numbers tell a very similar story. Interestingly however, their data shows that the percent of colony losses from overwintering problems (say roughly 20%) including starvation and too-cold weather among others, and CCD (say another 20%) were about equal for smaller operations ... so CCD essentially doubled overall winter losses for these outfits (now up to about 40%). Again, imagine that dairy farmer losing âsome' cows every winter due to old age, accidents and the like ... and then double it due to an unknown, and so far untreatable cause. Milk prices would skyrocket overnight.
One striking difference that did show up was that this nearly even ratio changed as the operations increased in size. It seems that the very large operations lost far, far more colonies to CCD than to wintering ... by a factor of 2 to 1 overall (that would be a 20% loss to overwintering, coupled with a 40% loss to CCD, equaling a 60% total). CCD caused a lot of problems for these big operations, that's for sure. And bigger means more colonies lost. Colonies that suffered or perished from CCD were found to have many problems -- bacteria, fungi, mites, small hive beetles -- but most especially several of the viruses that plague honey bees. Further, the presence of pesticides was noted to be high also, and those, too, are being monitored. For more on pesticide problems, see the articles on the CCD link here.
One very interesting fact that did come out of the BeeTech survey was the similarity of the occurrence of CCD this past fall and the occurrence of what was then called Disappearing Disease in the late 1970s. In both instances outbreaks were nearly identical in severity, location and time of year (see the article âHave we been here before' and the map of overlapping infestations here. And recall, back then these newest pesticides weren't around and migratory beekeeping was still in it's infancy ... so we can't blame either for the problems back then.
The AIA Survey results are posted on the CCD site here, and the Beetech survey is being completed and will be up directly at the same site soon, if it isn't there by the time you read this. If you're a numbers person, you'll enjoy the charts and graphs and whatnot ... but what you won't find is the answer to the question "What causes CCD?" It's still not in any report.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.