Dr. Geoffrey Williams and Dr. Nathalie Steinhauer join us in this episode to discuss the just released survey of colony losses between April 1, 2020 and April 1, 2021 conducted by the Bee Informed Partnership, BIP. The numbers are not getting better...
Dr. Geoffrey Williams and Dr. Nathalie Steinhauer join us in this episode to discuss the just released survey of colony losses between April 1, 2020 and April 1, 2021 conducted by the Bee Informed Partnership, BIP. The numbers are not getting better after 15 years. In fact, beekeepers across the United States lost 45.5% of their managed honey bee colonies last year.
The survey asks beekeeping operations of all sizes to track the survival or turnover rates of their honey bee colonies. This year, 3,347 beekeepers managing 192,384 colonies across the country responded to the survey, representing about 7% of the nation’s estimated 2.71 million managed colonies. This effort helps to keep a finger on the pulse of what is going on with beekeepers to identify why high losses are persisting.
These losses mark the second highest loss rate the survey has recorded since it began in 2006 (6.1 percentage points higher than the average annual loss rate of 39.4%). The survey results highlight the continuing high rates of honey bee colony turnover. The high loss rate was driven by both elevated summer and winter losses this year, with no clear progression toward improvement for beekeepers and their colonies. BIP hopes to use the survey results to better understand how colony losses are experienced by beekeepers, and what can be done to reduce losses in future seasons.
This past year, winter losses were reported at 32.2%, which is 9.6 percentage points higher than last year and 3.9 points higher than the survey average. Summer losses were some of the highest ever reported again this year at 31.1%, which is 0.9 percentage points lower than last year, but 8.6 points higher than the survey average.
Join us as we discuss the preliminary findings of this latest BIP survey!
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Jeff Ott: Welcome to Beekeeping Today Podcast presented by Bee Culture. Beekeeping Today Podcast is your source for beekeeping news, information, and entertainment. I'm Jeff Ott.
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Jeff: Thanks, Sherry. Hey, everybody, thanks for joining us for today's exciting episode. I almost forgot what I was going to say. Each week, we get to talk about how much we appreciate our sponsors' support. They help make all of this happen and provide us the ability to bring you each episode. Quickly, we want to thank Bee Culture magazine for continuing their presenting sponsorship of this podcast.
Bee Culture has been the magazine for American beekeeping since 1873. Subscribe to Bee Culture today. We also want to thank 2 Million Blossoms as a sponsor to this episode. 2 Million Blossoms is a quarterly magazine dedicated to protecting all pollinators. Learn more on our Season 2 Episode 9 podcast with editor Kirsten Traynor and from visiting www.2millionblossoms.com, and that is with a number 2. Also, check out the new 2 Million Blossoms' The Podcast, also available from her website, and wherever you download and stream your shows. Hey, Kim, it's been hot, hot, hot here in the Pacific Northwest. How are you doing there in Ohio?
Kim: Oh, we're just as hot as you are actually today, Jeff, but we're almost as hot, 90 versus a 100. We're a little more used to it out here, I think.
Jeff: It's 102 right now, buddy.
Kim: [laughs] Don't touch any metal.
Jeff: In the Pacific Northwest, that's unheard of. Coming up, we have a great show with Geoff Williams and Nathalie Steinhauer from the Bee Informed Partnership. They just released their annual loss survey. It's exciting stuff.
Kim: We're going to talk to them in a minute, of course, but Jim too and I have been looking at this. In the next Honey Bee Obscura, we're going to be looking at some of the aspects that we found particularly interesting and go in some depth rather than try and cover the whole report. Check that out next Thursday.
Jeff: Yes, I think that's going to be July 8th, right?
Jeff: All right, good. It'd be great to have you and Jim take a look at that survey, break it apart, unpack some of those details that are in the survey, and let the regular beekeeper know how they can use that information, and what's important and perhaps what's not.
Kim: Yes, that's what we want to look at.
Jeff: Oh, we're good. You and Jim are doing a fantastic job on Honey Bee Obscura. In fact, I was talking with Paul Longwell. You remember him from our regional series? He's a local master beekeeper here in Olympia. He said he stumbled across the Honey Bee Obscura podcast during this last couple of hot days. He's really enjoyed sitting and listening to them and said he got a lot out of them. He said it was just like sitting next to you guys in a conference room or in a hotel lobby at an annual conference. Kudos to you and Jim for the work you're doing.
Kim: They're fun to do. Jim and I have been talking like that for 33 years, so it's pretty easy to do for us. There's a couple of things I want to mention about Honey Bee Obscura, one of them, of course, being the one coming up next is the one on the Bee Informed Partnership. We've got another one coming up, and we're going to look even more at killing colonies. A terrible subject, but it's one that nobody ever talks about. We're going to look more at that. Stay tuned for that. Jeff, don't forget Bee Culture's bee diverse meeting coming up in October. 15 great speakers, three days. I'm really looking forward to being there and being able to catch what all these people have to say. Jerry's put together an incredible program.
Jeff: He sure has, it really looks fun. It's called BEEing Diverse: Inspiring Leaders in Beekeeping. It's October 1st through 3rd in Medina, Ohio. It's going to feature speakers that many whom have been on our show, including Dr. Sue Cobey and Tammy Horn Potter, who we just heard a couple weeks ago. I encourage everybody to check this out. More information will be coming out in Bee Culture magazine, and stay tuned to the podcast, we'll have more details. Oh, and space is limited, ain't it?
Kim: It is. The room is only so big. I'm guessing that by October, all of this COVID thing will have eased up quite a bit, but still, the room was only so big. Register early and make sure you get in.
Jeff: Yes, do that. I also wanted to remind everybody that as of the end of May, beginning of June, we started to include podcast transcriptions of each episode available in the show notes. This is something we're able to provide now through the generous support of our sponsors. This is something we wanted to do to extend the reach and the availability of our podcast, and the information our guests provide on a weekly basis to all beekeepers.
Let us know if this is something that you find useful and whether you use it or maybe a beekeeper you know finds it useful. We'd like to hear from you. Kim, we have coming up on today's show, Geoff Williams and Nathalie Steinhauer of Bee Informed Partnership. We've had Bee Informed Partnership on before. It's a good group of people, isn't it?
Kim: Yes, it is. They're out there doing a lot of great things. I hope they can fill us in. I know they're doing some new things. They've got new people on the board, and they're bringing in some broader experience, and it's really beginning to show.
Jeff: Really good. Let's get to them right now, but first, a quick word from our friends at Strong Microbials.
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Jeff: While you're at the Strong Microbials site, make sure you joined the hive, their regular newsletter full of all things honeybees. Receive exclusive offers and sale information, and be the first to know when they launched fantastic new products. Welcome back, everybody. Sitting across the virtual Zoom table right now are Geoff Williams and Nathalie Steinhauer from Bee Informed Partnership and the 2021 annual survey. Welcome, Nathalie, welcome, Geoff. Welcome back, Geoff. [chuckles]
Geoff Williams: [chuckles] Thank you. Hi, Jeff O.
Jeff: Yes, with a J. We had this problem before, didn't we?
Geoff: We did, but hopefully, we've got it covered. I'm happy for you to ask or answer some of my questions.
Jeff: No, you don't want my answers. Geoff was with us back in- let's see, back in 2019, I think. You were with Selina?
Geoff: Yes, exactly. Selina's trying to stay cool. I did speak with her earlier today, and yes, time flies. I can't believe I've been in Auburn, Alabama for over five years now.
Jeff: Nathalie, where are you?
Nathalie Steinhauer: Hi. I'm at the University of Maryland. This is where I've graduated from Dennis vanEngelsdorp's Lab, and I am now a honey bee health researcher there, and also the research coordinator for the Bee Informed Partnership.
Jeff: Very good. Real good. For our listeners, we've had the Bee Informed Partnership on several occasions, including Season 2 Episode 26 with Kelly and-
Geoff: Very good memory. [chuckles]
Jeff: -Kulhanek. That's all written down, believe me.
Jeff: He knows me, he's laughing at that comment. Yes, with Kelly and-- The Bee Informed Partnership does a lot of great work. Can you provide just a little bit of background on who the Bee Informed Partnership is, and then we'll get into the survey results?
Geoff: Sure. The Bee Informed Partnership is a nonprofit. As you mentioned, it's got several great different activities. The survey is one activity that we focus on, but the tech transfer teams that work largely with commercial beekeepers or sideliner beekeepers, these larger operations, that's a very large arm of our nonprofits. We've got team members across the country that are visiting different beekeepers as they come and go from their pollination events. They're also performing applied trials. Tech teams are very important.
Then, you mentioned Kelly earlier. That program is working with Sentinel Apiaries. I guess, usually, it's connected with backyard beekeepers or beekeeping clubs as an educational tool. It's a way for the Bee Informed Partnership to help raise awareness about different parasites, for example, Varroa and Nosema, and how to monitor them, but it also allows the beekeepers to be actively involved and engaged in the beeyards, so collecting samples, assessing colonies. Those, I guess, are the three major activities, but we do all kinds of applied research and Bee Informed had some great webinars last year during that pandemic.
Hey, Nathalie, there was like 500, 600, 700 beekeepers participating and calling in by the end of that. Lots of great activities. Karen Rennich was our executive director until about a year and a half ago. We have a new executive director named Net Meredith, and she's been really great. She had some connection to bees and insect pollinators but she's opened up our eyes, at least my eyes, as a board member to just nonprofit activities and fundraising and governance and things that I had no idea about. I'm actually appreciating that a lot too about my association with BIP. I don't know. Nathalie, did I cover everything? Anything left there?
Nathalie: Did you mention that you're the president now?
Geoff: Oh wait, I did not, but I'm humble. Right, Nathalie?
Jeff: Small fact escaped you. [laughs]
Geoff: I have taken over from Dennis, who was our president before. There has been quite a bit of a revamp. Myself and Net are talking often and we're really trying to have an active board. We've got some great commercial beekeepers, but we're also expanding a bit into our other stakeholder groups like some backyard beekeepers, connecting with veterinarians, for example, and like most nonprofits, trying to get into that fundraising realm. Of course, it's a little bit out of our comfort zone, but we're trying.
Jeff: Well, just full disclosure. I am a supporter of Bee Informed Partnership through my Amazon's donations. A portion of all my Amazon purchases go towards Bee Informed Partnership. Woohoo.
Geoff: That's great. AmazonSmile, to be precise. I believe it's free for everyone to register for an AmazonSmile account or maybe it's literally a click of a button,-
Jeff: It is.
Geoff: -and you can choose your charity of choice. There's thousands of amazing charities out there. Hopefully, BIP will be on the top of your list when you're doing that.
Jeff: Yes, it is. It's quite easy to do. Enough of the commercial, but I'm proud to do that and encourage anybody who's wanting to contribute painlessly to bee research. Search at AmazonSmile and select Bee Informed Partnership as your charity of choice. Well, we brought you here today, thank you Nathalie and Geoff, to talk about-- You just released 2021 Annual Colony Loss Survey. Well, just give us some background on the survey and how it got started, and then we can start talking about the 2021 findings.
Geoff: How about I throw it over to Nathalie since-
Geoff: -Nathalie, you've been involved with BIP much longer than I have? How's that sound?
Nathalie: That sounds good. I wasn't involved since the start because, actually, the Colony Loss and Management Survey actually even predated the Bee Informed Partnership. It started in 2007 and it was really initiated with the support of the Apiary Inspectors of America at the time. If you remember, it was in the wake of CCD. There was a lot of questions about what was the normal colony mortality rate? What was the normal turnover rate of colonies? We didn't really have good data on that at the time. There was no national survey that really focused on those data.
The Apiary Inspectors started in 2007 and actually initiated this first grant that funded the Bee Informed Partnership as this coalition of researchers and stakeholders and industry to try to tackle the questions of honeybee health and with the objective to try to improve honeybee health. By the end of that grant is really when the Bee Informed Partnership actually became a nonprofit. It was, I think, one of the detail of the grant that we had to try to make it sustainable. It was a very effective, happy result that we ended up being able to fund a nonprofit at the end of that grant. We have taken over the survey and make sure that it happens every year. Every year like clockwork on April 1st, the survey launches.
Geoff: It's not an April Fools' Day joke by any means, right?
Nathalie: I don't know who picked that day too in the first place. It's a voluntary survey. We really try to reach as many beekeepers as we can and where the force is really too small for that so we can actually thank Bee Culture and all of our other sponsors that help spread the word and just share the message to try to get as many beekeepers to take the survey as possible. Then, we asked beekeeper questions about the number of colonies that they manage over the past calendar year and the type of management practices that they've used during that year. This is how we get our estimates.
Kim: Well, that's a good background on doing your survey. Of course, the report has just come out from this year's survey. We could talk numbers all day, but I think the important numbers to look at are, from my perspective, comparing backyard beekeepers, sideliner beekeepers, and commercial beekeepers. You've got definitions on how many colonies they run to be a commercial-- Is it over 500, I believe, to be a commercial and over 50 to be a sideliner?
Geoff: Yes, exactly.
Kim: The interesting part on this year's survey is when you're comparing those three groups, it's not percentage of loss. It's a percentage of turnover, is how you address this, right? I start out with five colonies, I lose three, I do three splits, and I end up with five colonies. How do you explain that so that it's easy to understand?
Nathalie: That's a great question. It's actually something that we noticed that journalists and sometimes the public struggle as well, because we call this a loss rate because it's very akin to a mortality rate. In beekeeping, you can lose a colony without having a physical dead out in your yard. If you have three colonies and you merge two of them together, you physically have lost a unit even though there is no single dead bee out there or empty equipment. Because this is not exactly a mortality rate, we've named it loss rate, but then some people also misinterpret it as a population decline, which is also not the case. The best way to understand the loss rate is this turnover.
Kim: Turnover? Okay. That explains it good enough. Well then, what I'm looking at is, on your graph, you call it percent losses, percent turnover. You've got it divided into summer, winter, and annual, and I'm looking at the commercial turnovers. In summer this year seem extraordinarily high. You got any feel for why that is?
Geoff: There's a bit of speculation here. I guess just talking back to the strength of the survey being such long-term is that we do see there's highs and lows although there are these trends. For example, we do see that there's trends that colony mortality may be different in different regions of the country over time. We do see these trends that backyard beekeepers typically lose more colonies than commercial beekeepers. We also see trends that, usually, loss rates of commercial beekeepers in the winter and summer, they're about the same. Whereas if you compare it to backyard beekeepers, usually, the backyard beekeepers lose a lot of colonies in winter and not as many relative to the winter loss in the summer.
These commercial beekeepers appear to be losing similar amounts of colonies every summer versus winter. Okay, this year is a little bit higher. Hard to understand why that is. I did hear some speculation that, for example, in California, it was fairly wet and rainy, if that makes sense in the spring time, which might've affected queen production, for example. I was actually just speaking to one of our board members, George Hansen, earlier today and just also, I guess, a preemptive strike that that might be one of your questions.
The commercial beekeepers, it seems like, are just maybe more proactive in making splits and, I guess, preparing colonies for the fall and into the winter or the pollination period. That's connected to maybe a future question you'll have regarding why are the commercial beekeepers replacing queens so much. From my understanding, those colonies are so valuable for them for pollination and they need a queenright healthy colony going into their summer period to pollinate. They need to replace queens a lot, or in George's case, he was introducing a nuc into a colony to rebuild that colony, so to speak.
The commercial beekeepers just seem to be a lot more active in their colony management in the summer compared to a backyard beekeeper, for example. I think that that has connections to probably almost the opposite, Kim, of what you were asking about. Commercial beekeeper losses in the summer to backyard beekeepers in the winter. Maybe that explains these large losses, is because the commercial beekeepers are super active in the summer preparing their colonies, getting them ready for winter, but maybe the backyard beekeepers aren't that active in the summer, and then things like Varroa and old queens catch up with them that winter. I think I answered your question in a complete opposite way to the question.
Kim: [chuckles] No, that makes perfect sense. When bees put food on your table, you're going to be working with them every day. Like me, they don't put food on my table, I get to them once in a while, I'll put it that way. You brought up another point as what was the biggest problem, the biggest cause of loss with all of these people, the commercial and the sideline and the hobby.
Varroa leads the pack, heads and shoulders, but what comes in second was what surprised me. You've just touched on it when you say queen issues. I can see from what you've just said where queen issues might be an issue because I've got to have a strong colony all year long, whereas the sideline and the hobby people are looking at queen issues and it's not quite as important for them, but they're still losing colonies a lot, second to only Varroa.
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Kim: What's going on with queens?
Geoff: That's, I guess, also a great speculation. If we had an answer to that, I think our loss just might be a little bit different. I guess what Dave Tarpy, our colleague at NC State-- He's done a lot of work with queen health. Of course, again, every year is different. Their bees are so connected to the environment. It's hard to say exactly what is going on right now. We've seen that queens, for example, in his work coming out of California, that the queens are living which are healthy and have high sperm counts and stuff like that.
It points that something is happening downstream from that installation. It's a million-dollar question. We know that there's stressors affecting queens like pesticides, for example, both from beekeeper-applied pesticides as well as exposure to agricultural chemicals in the field. We know that parasites can also affect queens. I don't have a solid answer other than that we're trying to study all these different interactions in queens and even connect it back to the drones that they're mating with and are they high quality, for example. I don't know. Nathalie, do you have anything to save me there in that answer?
Nathalie: I just would add to it. Those answers actually are questions where we ask beekeepers to self-report what they think is the major cause of deaths in their operation over the summer or the winter. Of course, that also highlights that this is their opinion about what happened in their colonies. It feels like in certain occasion, it is possible that a bad queen takes the blame for something else.
If there is a dearth and the queen stops laying, the beekeepers might report it as a queen issue when, really, the cause of the queen issue is something else as well. There is just a point of caution there in that as one of the limitation of the survey of this year is that we are also combining both the point of view of the beekeeper and what they are reporting. It's not like we have put death certificate for every colony, obviously, in the country. This is probably the best data we can get.
Kim: You've got 14 stressors if you're looking at why my colony died and you start interacting two, three, five, seven of those. Well, myself included, I think I know why this colony died. It had a lot of Varroa, but it had some other things, and I've got some old comb and, and, so it begins to mount up. One of the other things you mentioned earlier and I'd like to go into just a little if we can is you mentioned problems regionally.
Over several years, have you seen regions-- Do they move around? Are they consistent in some years, most years, no years? I'm going to guess that the participation from a particular state has a lot to do with the kind of data that you get. It's going to be better data the more participation you get from a state, right?
Nathalie: Right, that is correct. The survey, because of its origin and also probably because of just the distribution of the population in the US, is more representative of the northeastern states where we have more participants every year and more consistently than some of the other parts of the country. That being said, we do observe some geographical trends in the last states that we're estimating. We actually are in the process of working on a GIS analysis, so it's a geographical analysis with Stephanie. We're very excited to be working with Stephanie who's the GIS processor at Auburn University to try to disentangle the geospatial correlation in the data and trying to find those trends and put them into context.
Geoff: That's again back to the power of this long-term survey. I used to live in Europe and I have a couple of colleagues there that were working in very high-level detail collecting parasites, monitoring colonies, but they did it for one or two years and it's very difficult to say anything from that, especially given the role of the environment and weather that we are assuming can impact our bees because they're out there relying on forage and other things.
This long-term survey, the more we do it, the more beekeepers that participate really drives some of these long-term trends to now being studied. As Nathalie mentioned, we do start to see some trends. I guess maybe we won't reveal too much. Maybe we can be asked to be invited in a few months, hopefully, when the analysis is done to talk more. No doubt, things like weather probably play an important role.
Coming from Canada, I always wondered these dark, deep winters, is that worse for the bees? What about in the south where I'm in Alabama and we have a five-day period of having no eggs? Then thinking that connection to Varroa. Varroa is constantly reproducing. It's not obvious to me what would be worse, a strong winter with no brood for four months or a warm winter with brood all year round? I guess it's revealing that the long winter might be worse, but again, we're still in the early rounds of investigating that.
Kim: Interesting on the weather. I would've thought exactly that, that hard winters are harder on bees, but Varroa throws in-- Then of course on the horizon, those tropilaelaps which is going to be a whole different animal to have to deal with and looking at. [chuckles]
Jeff: One crisis at a time, Kim. One crisis at a time.
Geoff: Well, fingers crossed, it doesn't come here any time soon. Well, I did have the pleasure. I've worked with it for several years with my colleague at Chiang Mai University, Dr. Panuwan. Yes, hopefully, it doesn't come here, and it seems to need brood to survive long periods, so that may limit its potential spread. Yes, one crisis at a time, I agree with Jeff, but we should be prepared. We should be prepared for it.
Kim: I don't have 20 years worth of data in front of me here. More people every year have a greater distribution of commercial, sideline, hobby. How's the data been going over time?
Nathalie: In our survey, what we have observed over the 15 years that we took the survey is in earlier years, we were very limited. I think in the very first year of the survey, it was only done by phone interviews and mostly commercial beekeepers. After a couple of years, we actively switched to an online platform that really helps to reach many more beekeepers. For a couple of years, the survey grew. Then after that in the most recent year, we have noticed that it's getting harder and harder to reach beekeepers every year and so we do notice some type of survey fatigue.
One thing that's actually interesting is that I have talked to some of my colleagues in other agricultural domains, and they say that they have noticed the same thing as well. There's this, it's a general trend, not just in beekeeping but in the whole agriculture that survey work, it's getting harder to have people coming back to take the survey every year. That's asking a lot of their time and so in answer to that, we've actually tried to very actively make the survey easier to, say, shorten it and make it more relevant for beekeepers.
In this year in particular, what we decided to do for the first year is-- The last survey is still continuing the tradition that we started 50 years ago, we're still documenting the same thing, but in this management section of the survey, we now have decided to actually focus on one specific topic every year and rotating those stuff back year after year to really try to shorten the survey so that it doesn't take as long for beekeepers to answer.
Geoff: I guess those listening, especially if you have more than 50 colonies, you notice we did make a few tweaks into the colony loss portion too just to try to make it a bit more relevant to you larger scale beekeepers. For example, April 1st is not necessarily the default start to spring for commercial beekeepers. It's more when they started splitting. That could have been, and I guess we haven't dug into that data, but it could have been, maybe it was the day before April 1st or maybe it was March 1st.
We've tried to be a bit more flexible and also reflect some of the actions of the beekeepers. We really appreciated having like an informal needs assessment with several beekeepers, some from our BIP board, but others just participating in BIP activities like tech teams. We really appreciated having a few calls with them earlier in the year. I'm just trying to bat ideas and things like that. Yes, we really try to involve ourselves with our stakeholders. I know Nathalie was talking about with the Apiary Inspectors earlier this year and, yes, we're always chatting with relevant beekeepers, whether or not they're on our board or not.
Kim: I can see the difficulty in defining the beginning of the season because if I'm a commercial beekeeper, I'm loading bees on a truck, and February heading for California. Is that the beginning of the season, or does it begin when I take them out of almonds to start splitting them? Is that the beginning of the season? How do you define that? Your timeline is from April 1st to April 1st, right? Within that time period, you're not looking at the beginning of a season, you're just looking over the whole season. Do I get that? Do I have that right?
Nathalie: Yes, that's correct. We're working on a calendar year and then the April 1 to April 1 was a decision that was made at the start of the survey and we stick by it just to be able to have a comparison to previous years whenever we add a new year, and with the idea that if you make any splits between April and October, that will count towards your summer splits, and if you make any splits between October and next April, it will count into your winter splits in the way that we separate the season.
In any case, whether you start just before or after, it will be counted in one season or the other. As Geoff was saying, just because of this artificial timeline, we have noticed that sometimes beekeeper even just interpret the question as, "Oh, they mean April 1st, but I'm going to say just before I started making my splits." We say well, if the beekeepers are actually answering the question that way, we might as well make it official and just making that a little more flexible. Currently now, we are considering that the season really starts when the beekeepers starts making their splits early in the spring or at the latest, April 1st. That is now our start of the season.
Kim: That makes sense. Then, there is a beginning of the season one way or another. That's good. What's the thing that impressed the statistic that impressed either of you the most this year?
Geoff: I can guess what Nathalie's going to say. Can I guess, Nathalie?
Nathalie: Please do.
Geoff: I was going to guess that it's the same as previous years with these high elevated losses and similar trend. Am I right? [laughs]
Nathalie: That's correct. I was going to say. [chuckles]
Geoff: All right. Do you want to go into more detail then, Nathalie? [laughs] I don't want to steal your thunder or anything, but I just had a feeling. [chuckles]
Nathalie: Yes. This is really true. I guess, one thing that we started looking at all the data, and not just the lost data but also the management, we started to really notice what changes and what doesn't change in the survey. I remember that one of the results that I actually showed the Apiary Inspector earlier this year is how impressive we were at the fact that more and more beekeeper are monitoring their mites.
More and more beekeeper are controlling for their mites. We actually see that proportion of beekeepers that do it increasing year after year, which is a very nice curve of adoption of the best management practices. When you put that in perspective, the fact that the loss rates doesn't really change is actually pretty disappointing, because you would expect that if beekeepers are going towards the best behavior or the best practices, we should see a result in decreasing the risk that their colonies are facing.
That's going to be where we had the discussion with Geoff, where it feels really like we are running just to stand still. Beekeepers are adapting their practice, beekeeper are more aware of the risks that their colonies are facing. Yet, the loss rates are still very not consistent because there are worse year and better years. I should say worse year and less bad years, but we don't really see an improvement, and I think that's, in the end, what's mostly marking.
Kim: Yes. Varroa is an obvious fall here. It seems to be getting smarter in what it's doing. What about you, Geoff Williams?
Geoff: We've only just scratched the surface in that abstract about queen replacement, for example, or new colonies. I guess I'm more excited about what's to come from this survey. I really appreciated that we condensed it down, we tried to cater it a bit more. I'm excited for, Dan, and Selina, and Nathalie, and Mikayla to really investigate some of these trends in management, seeing if there's relationships to losses. I guess I'm more excited of what's to come, so to speak.
Yes, as in a quick snapshot, we saw commercial beekeepers are clearly doing something a bit different with replacement of queens than backyard beekeepers. Does that explain something? Maybe. I guess I really like seeing on paper how different groups of beekeepers are doing different things. Of course, like even within the commercial realm or the backyard realm, you have different groups of beekeepers that might have different philosophies in terms of, let's say, Varroa management, for example.
There's lots of things to come, but there's also quite a few papers that have been published with BIP or some form of collaboration with BIP, and maybe we can pass them along, Nathalie, to Jeff Ott to put on the website. Again, I guess related to that survey fatigue, just know that it takes a bit of time to get published papers out. It needs to go through this big review process, but now, we're slowly reaping the benefits of that in that there's several papers that are coming out of these Bee Informed surveys that are revealing some very interesting things.
Some are obvious. Like Varroa is important but that's important to really bat and, as Nathalie mentioned, the survey is great for showing this behavior change. Maybe there's a bit of a time lag there and so, hopefully, as we move forward, colony losses might come down a little bit as a response to beekeepers doing things a little bit more differently, like monitoring more or treating when appropriate.
Kim: Well, it'd certainly be an improvement and certainly be good for the industry. You're going to take the data you've gathered from this survey, and you're going to throw it in a blender and eventually, down the road, come up with a published paper on this, looking at the data, but trying to explain why the data is the way it is, and about how long? I'm trying to plan when to get you to come back is that's what I'm doing.
Geoff: [chuckles] I guess it's difficult to predict that because we've got to write it and analyze it, but we also rely on scientific colleagues to review it. It does take time. I cannot promise anything but, Nathalie, you had a paper recently published looking at previous years' data in management actions connected to colony loss. Maybe you want to speak to that a little bit.
Kim: That would certainly be a good paper to have a hold of.
Nathalie: That was actually the work that I did during my PhD. It took me a couple more years to get it out after I was registered. It felt really good once it was published. That was actually, as I said, my PhD work where we looked at if we could find the practices that were the most associated with a potential increase in survivorship of colonies. We separated those recommendations by operation side. The way we worked on this is really we compared what beekeeper were reporting compared to what a group of experts had identified as the best practices, and provided a score to beekeeping practices.
Basically, what we were able to say was to confirm that the experts were correct and that the beekeepers that had the highest score also had a lower mortality. It confirmed the opinion of the experts and then enabled us to identify then the most important drivers of the improvement. We were able to identify something like the top five practices for backyard and commercial beekeeper that were associated with an increased success in colony survivorship.
Kim: We will have that link to that paper on our webpage, right, Jeff?
Jeff: Listeners can look in our show notes, and we'll have links to the BIP website and also this information.
Kim: That would be good.
Nathalie: Without keeping the suspense, one of the things that is-- I don't know if he says irritating or something, but it's like most of those practices are really not a secret of the industry. Some of them are really very completely obvious, I will say. We do notice that Varroa is important, monitoring for Varroa and controlling. Not just one or the other, but both are key important aspects of Varroa management. That controlling alone is not effective, but you also need to monitor and control. It's the idea that your control needs to be associated with monitoring and not just the treatments.
Then, you have the idea that people that start from packages, it's associated with a higher loss just because, and that's something that beekeeper know. Starting from packages is hard because it probably means that you're going to have to let your bees draw their comb and you might be starting some from no foundation. It will take a lot of investment to get those colonies going. We have identified that as a risk factor in that work as well. There are a multiple of those. As you can see, it confirms management practices that we know are important. I guess it just gives you this foundational data to support those hypotheses.
Kim: I guess if you tell me something enough times, I might eventually listen. Is that what you're telling? [laughs]
Nathalie: That might a good way to show it, yes.
Geoff: Well, Nat, that was another few questions to this new survey, is a bit focused in on beekeeper education and trying to understand the ways that beekeepers seek information, and obtain information, and seeing if there's a connection to losses that way. I'm really excited that we've worked with Nathalie and Dennis and Selina who maybe people remember from several years ago looking at a bit more like beekeeper education, how that plays a role in knowledge gain as well as behavior change.
Kim: Interesting. I look forward to your paper from this year's survey down the road. I'm going to go look at the papers from previous surveys. Jeff, have we covered most of this for now?
Jeff: Yes, I think we've got all the bases covered. Wait, was that for me or for Geoff W?
Geoff: Well, I would agree, but I guess Jeff O, you're in charge.
Jeff: Yes, and don't you forget it. No, just kidding. Yes, I think we've done a good job. I just encourage our listeners to go out to the Bee Informed website, beeinformed.org, click on the link, read the survey, keep up with all the great information you provide and all the great resources that you have. Is there anything you wanted to cover, Geoff W, that we haven't?
Geoff: I think I'm good. I appreciate Kim's thorough questions. [chuckles]
Kim: [chuckles] This is very good. Actually, what we're more interested in is getting people interested in finding out what you already know and to chase it that way. If we can wet their appetite a little bit, we've been successful. We appreciate you being here and sharing your information. It's been fun.
Nathalie: Thank you for inviting us.
Geoff: Thanks so much.
Jeff: Bye, take care.
Geoff: Take care.
Nathalie: Thank you.
Geoff: Thanks. Bye.
Jeff: That was really fun, having Geoff and Nathalie here to talk about the 2021 BIP survey results. The survey doesn't give us tactical information that we can go out in the beeyard news this afternoon. It does give us a good strategic view of the industry and some of the bigger problems and challenges we face as beekeepers and something that we can make our plans from.
Kim: I think any level beekeeper can probably gain from the information, if not how to, why to. That will definitely help. I'm also really interested in these past-- I probably knew they existed, but how to get them and digging them up? I'm looking for the analysis of the past surveys, because that tells what, why, and when, and how. I think those could be very valuable, especially over time. I think that'll be--
Jeff: 15 years, right?
Kim: Yes, something like that. That'll be good data to have, looking at changes over time, changes over region, that sort of thing.
Jeff: It'd be fun to see what trends are there, if any trends can be found.
Kim: One of the things is when you look at the preliminary results of this survey, is that you look at the map and the participation in each state. One of the things you'll notice, there's an unwritten rule that says there's way more beekeepers east of the Mississippi, and there's way more bees west of the Mississippi. It looks like that shows that. The western states had quite a few that had very little representation, because they have very few beekeepers who all have a lot of bees as opposed to East Coast people who don't have very many bees and have more time than common sense sometimes. Anyway, I look forward to the survey results from this year and previous years. I think it was a good thing to do today.
Jeff: Can't say it enough, encourage everyone to go out to the Bee Informed website and browse around, click on the links in our show notes down below. You can go to this year's results. Then from there, you can go and look at all the other programs that Bee Informed has. Please do it. You'll be happy you did. It's good, useful, practical information.
Kim: Just one quick question, Jeff.
Kim: Is it as hot where you are as they say it is?
Jeff: It's hotter than what they say it is.
Kim: Well, stay warm.
Jeff: Well, that's not going to be a problem. For our listeners who do follow us on Instagram, I have posted some pictures over the last several days of the bees and the heat and how everyone's faring.
Kim: [laughs] Well, hopefully, it'll be cooler the next time we talk.
Jeff: Yes, I hope so. All right. Well, that about wraps it up for this episode. Before we go, I want to encourage our listeners to rate us five stars on Apple Podcasts for every download and stream of the show. Your vote helps other beekeepers find this quicker. Even better, write a review and let other beekeepers looking for a new podcast know what you like. You can get there directly from our website by clicking on reviews along the top of any web page.
As always, we thank Bee Culture, the magazine for American beekeeping, for their continued support of Beekeeping Today Podcast. We want to thank our regular episode sponsor, Global Patties. Check them out at www.globalpatties.com. We also want to thank Strong Microbials for their support of the podcast. Check out their full probiotic line at www.strongmicrobials.com.
We want to thank Betterbee for joining us as a supporter. Check out their great beekeeping supplies at www.betterbee.com. Finally, most importantly, we want to thank you, the Beekeeping Today Podcast listener, for joining us on this show. Feel free to send us questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd love to hear from you. Anything else, Kim?
Kim: I think that about wraps it up. Stay warm, Jeff.
Jeff: I'm sitting on an ice cube.
Jeff: Bye-bye, everybody.
[00:50:09] [END OF AUDIO]
Dr. Steinhauer is an entomologist specialized in questions related to honey bee health. Nathalie was born and raised in Belgium where she completed a Master in Biology, and following a Master Research in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation from Imperial College London (UK), she graduated from University of Maryland. Nathalie took on the responsibilities as Research Coordinator for the Bee Informed Partnership in 2018.
Bee Informed Partnership (BIP) is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving honey bee health, by bridging the gap between science and stakeholders, contributing to, and promoting research on honey bee health and beekeeping management practices. In particular, Nathalie collaborated in the production and analysis of BIP’s Annual Loss and Management Surveys (2013-present), and several other monitoring programs organized by BIP and UMD.
Nathalie is a self-described R-enthusiast (statistical analysis software) and beekeeper since 2009.
I’m a Canadian living and working in Alabama! I grew up in Alberta, went to grad school training in Nova Scotia and have worked with honey bees throughout North America, Europe, and Asia.
Before joining Auburn University, I worked for the Swiss government. Now at Auburn University, I’m building a program that seeks to better understand and promote bee health. To achieve these massive goals (as you can imagine), the AU-BEES lab is working on various topics – from studying the effects of neonicotinoids on queens, to working on the latest Integrated Pest Management tool against varroa, to performing the Bee Informed Partnership’s National Colony Loss and Management Survey, to investigating bee attractiveness to native wildflowers.
Apart from assisting my students with their studies, another aspect of my work that I really enjoy is discussing with beekeepers – hearing why you keep bees and love beekeeping, and what are some of your major challenges. Despite geographic and cultural differences, bees bring many different people together – I love this!
And finally, outside my daily activities at Auburn University, I am also the President of the Bee Informed Partnership and Vice President of the COLOSS Honey Bee Research Association.
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