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Photo: Honey bee on flower.
ARS scientists are pursuing the cause or causes of Colony Collapse Disorder, which continues to plague honey bees. Photo courtesy of David Cappaert, Michigan State University,

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Still Seeking a Cause of Colony Collapse Disorder

By Kim Kaplan
May 5, 2008

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the Apiary Inspectors of America have conducted a combined survey of beekeepers to get a snapshot of how well managed colonies made it through the winter of 2007-08.

Surveyed beekeepers reported a total loss of about 36.1 percent of their honey bee colonies, up about 13.5 percent from the previous winter. Losses attributed to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) appear to be about the same, with just over one-third (36 percent) of the operations reporting some lost colonies in which all adult bees disappeared, a primary symptom of CCD, according to Jeff Pettis, research leader of the ARS Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Md.

The combined survey, which was conducted by telephone interview, checked on nearly 19 percent of the country's 2.44 million colonies.

ARS is continuing to vigorously seek the cause or causes of CCD.

One issue complicating such research is that, so far, researchers only have samples taken after a CCD incident is reported. With just the one set of samples, especially since the adult bees have disappeared, researchers cannot look for specific changes in affected bee colonies preceding the collapse.

To deal with this, in February 2007, Pettis and cooperators from universities and states began taking samples about every six weeks from cooperating migratory beekeepers who move their colonies to provide pollination. Two of the apiaries being sampled had suffered outbreaks of CCD in 2006.

Some of these apiaries did have a CCD incident in late 2007 or early 2008. The stored samples will hopefully give researchers an opportunity to see what changed, and more direction to find the cause or causes.

Read more about CCD research by ARS in the May/June issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.