It’s about time for the annual mass migration of honeybees to California, and new research is helping lower the chances the pollinators and their offspring will die while they’re visiting the West Coast.
Each winter, professional beekeepers from around the nation stack hive upon hive on trucks destined for the Golden State, where February coaxes forward the sweet-smelling, pink and white blossoms of the Central Valley’s almond trees.
Almond growers rent upwards of 1.5 million colonies of honeybees a year, at a cost of around $300 million. Without the bees, there would be no almonds, and there are nowhere near enough native bees to take up the task of pollinating the trees responsible for more than 80 percent of the world’s almonds. The trouble was, bees and larvae were dying while in California, and nobody was sure exactly why. The problem started in adults only, and beekeepers were most worried about loss of queens.
Then in 2014, about 80,000 colonies – about 5 percent of bees brought in for pollination – experienced adult bee deaths or a dead and deformed brood. Some entire colonies died.
With support from the Almond Board of California, an industry service agency, bee expert Reed Johnson of The Ohio State University took up the task of figuring out what was happening. Results from his earlier research had shown that some insecticides thought safe for bees were impacting larvae. Building on that, Johnson undertook a new study, newly published in the journal Insects, that details how combinations of insecticides and fungicides typically deemed individually “safe” for honeybees turn into lethal cocktails when mixed.
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