Record number of beekeepers have their say in latest health check for bees

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Almost a half of the country's registered beekeepers have taken part in an annual survey to understand bee health, losses and beekeeping practice.

More than 3,600 beekeepers completed the 2018 Colony Loss Survey, which was carried out on behalf of Biosecurity New Zealand by Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research.

"The numbers of beekeepers participating in the self-reporting survey represents 47 percent of New Zealand's registered beekeepers and 42 percent of registered colonies," says Biosecurity New Zealand's biosecurity surveillance and incursion (aquatic and environment health) manager, Dr Michael Taylor.

"This is the highest response rate we have had in the 4 years of doing the survey and we have consistently higher response rates than any other country in the world."

The latest results show bee colony losses have increased slightly since 2015.

Annual hive losses were reported at 10.2% overall.

"We have seen a slight increase in reported colony losses across the country every year since we began doing this survey 4 years ago," says Dr Taylor.
The overall colony loss rate was 8.4 percent in 2015, 9.6 percent in 2016 and 9.7 percent in 2017.

"Although this loss rate is still relatively low compared with many other countries, it does highlight the importance of ensuring good biosecurity, colony health and beekeeping practice and we should strive for better outcomes."

The most commonly reported causes of colony losses, accounting for 80% of losses in 2018, were:

  • queen problems (such as drone layers, queen disappearance or not laying eggs)
  • suspected varroa mite infestation
  • suspected starvation of bees (caused by weather and other factors)
  • wasps (which kill bees, eat pupae and steal honey).

Less common were losses caused by American foulbrood disease, theft and vandalism, toxicity, accidents, and Argentine ants.

"The beekeeping industry and Biosecurity New Zealand must work closely together to ensure the long term health of our honey bee colonies.

"The survey data shows interesting variation in loss rates, and some clues as to the causes of those losses, across different regions.

"For example, there has been an increase in annual winter colony losses reported for the South Island and the top of the North Island.

"However, I am pleased to see that beekeepers in the middle and south of the North Island on the other hand are bucking the national trend, reporting decreased rates of colony losses since 2016. The 2018 loss figures for these areas are 9.9 percent and 8.1 percent respectively, the lowest results in the country.

Beekeepers make up colony losses every year with new colonies that they split from existing colonies. Queens are either created by the beekeeper or introduced as new queens from a queen breeder.

While the 2018 survey did attract a higher number of beekeepers than previous years, we need to keep encouraging more beekeepers to participate so we get a more accurate overall picture, says Dr Taylor.

The Bee Colony Loss Survey provides baseline information for monitoring managed honey bee colony loss and survival over time.

"The information from the survey is a valued resource for the other ongoing work Biosecurity New Zealand undertakes with the beekeeping industry to promote good biosecurity, colony health and beekeeping practice. Results from the largest ever bee health study in New Zealand, the Bee Pathogen Programme, will be available later this year."

2018 Bee Colony Loss Survey report [PDF, 9.1 MB]

2018 Bee Colony Loss Survey infographic A3 [PDF, 356 KB]

2018 Bee Colony Loss Survey infographic A4 [PDF, 356 KB]

About the Bee Colony Loss Survey

The Bee Colony Loss Survey provides baseline survey-based information for monitoring managed honey bee colony loss and survival over time.

Biosecurity New Zealand is also undertaking the largest bee health study ever done in New Zealand, the Bee Pathogen Programme. Sampling was recently completed for the Bee Pathogen Programme and results will be available in late-2019.

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