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Honey bee colony loss slows, but they're still dying

Bee colony loss has improved from "horrible" to "just bad."
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The good news is that the loss of bee colonies slowed during the winter. The bad news is bees are still dying.

That's the finding of the Bee Informed Partnership's colony loss survey, which tracked the performance of more than 350,000 colonies managed by 4,963 beekeepers in the U.S. last year.

Of those colonies, and estimated 21.1 percent of those were lost over the 2016-17 winter.

Although this is still not good, it represents an improvement on recent years. In the 2015-16 winter, 26.9 percent of bee colonies were lost.

When the 2016 summer is taken into account, beekeepers lost 33.2 percent of their colonies in the 12 months starting April 2016. This is the second-lowest rate of annual colony loss recorded in the past seven years.

Dennis vanEngelsdorp, an assistant professor of entomology at the University of Maryland, told MPR News the latest figures mean bee colony loss has moved from "horrible" to "just bad."

He told the news organization the slowing decline in colony loss could be the result of better control of the varroa mite, which is considered by scientists to be the leading factor in bee deaths.

Pesticide use, disease and nutrition have also been cited as contributing to colony losses.

The pollination carried out by honey bees is vital for the human food chain, with the Southwest Farm Press noting honey bees support one in every three bites of food we take.

The Associated Press says with winter colony losses on the slide, the U.S. government has set a goal of keeping losses under 15 percent this winter.

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