New Zealand bee hive losses ‘low-to-average’

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A survey on the loss of bee hives in New Zealand has found the rate to be low-to-average compared to international studies.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and the beekeeping industry have today released a report on the findings of the inaugural New Zealand Colony Loss and Survival Survey in 2015.

The survey found New Zealand bee hive losses at 11% as opposed to an average of 17% internationally in the northern hemisphere.

The major cause of hive loss was problems associated with queen bees, in particular, drone-laying queens (queens that lay under-fertilised eggs which result in drones (males)), and the absence of a queen or the death of the queen. Other losses were attributed to hive thefts, changes in land access, nectar, pollination sources and overcrowding of apiary sites and wasps.

“Beekeeping is an integral part of New Zealand’s agricultural economy. The honey bee is an abundant and readily managed pollinator for pastoral, arable, and horticultural production,” said Stuart Anderson, Director Spatial, Forestry and Land Management, MPI.

“The purpose of the survey, the first of its kind in New Zealand, was to build a better picture of the state of our honey bees and the challenges beekeepers are facing. The results will provide baseline information for monitoring managed honey bee colony loss and survival over time.”

The survey, by Landcare Research, was commissioned by MPI, the National Beekeepers Association and the Bee Interest Group of Federated Farmers.

The survey provides the most comprehensive picture to date of bee hive losses in New Zealand. A total of 366 beekeepers, who collectively manage 225,660 hives, were surveyed about their beekeeping practices, losses of hives and its causes, queen bee health, varroa treatments, supplementary feeding, overcrowding and loss of apiary sites.

The survey was modelled on colony loss surveys being conducted around the world and adapted to the New Zealand setting, and done in consultation with New Zealand beekeepers.

“In temperate climates such as New Zealand, some colony loss is expected over winter due to lack of food and poor foraging weather, bees being too weak to survive the cold, or bee health being compromised by pests and diseases or environmental factors,” said Mr Anderson.

Overall, commercial beekeepers reported fewer hive losses than non-commercial beekeepers.

The survey was not intended to diagnose Colony Collapse Disorder or Colony Depopulation Syndrome in New Zealand, rather it provides baseline data that will provide an insight as where further research may be required.

MPI will be discussing the findings with industry over the next few months and what they mean for colony health and beekeeping practice.

Download the New Zealand Colony Loss and Survival survey [PDF, 1.3 MB]

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