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USDA acts to halt honeybee decline

July 23, 2007 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 85, Issue 30

Entomologists check the status of a bee colony at the USDA Bee Research Lab in Beltsville, Md.
Credit: Jay Evans/USDA

Government scientists have put together a plan to investigate the significant decline in the honeybee population in at least 22 states, a puzzling development with the potential to cause billions of dollars' worth of damage to crops nationwide. "There were enough honeybees to provide pollination for U.S. agriculture this year, but beekeepers could face a serious problem next year and beyond," says Gale A. Buchanan, USDA's undersecretary for research, education, and economics. Honeybees pollinate more than 130 crops in the U.S. and add $15 billion in crop value annually, according to USDA. Recently, there has been an estimated loss of more than one-quarter of the nation's honeybees, a decrease due to what the department calls colony collapse disorder. USDA has identified four possible causes for the decline: new or reemerging pathogens, new pests or parasites, environmental or nutritional stress, or pesticides. Federal researchers plan to conduct new surveys to obtain an accurate picture of honeybee numbers and will conduct experiments to examine the potential causes of colony collapses and develop strategies for improving bee health and countering known mortality factors.


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