21 Aug 2015

Hive mind questioned on state of bees

2:40 pm on 21 August 2015

A national survey of beekeepers is underway to shed more light on what's causing significant honey bee losses in some parts of the country.

A beekeeper inspects a hive.

A beekeeper inspects a hive. Photo: Linda Newstom-Lloyd, Landcare Research

Landcare Research is conducting the online survey which will gather information from commercial as well as hobby beekeepers.

While hive numbers have significantly increased over recent years, there has also been a surge in unexplained colony collapses.

Beekeepers in Coromandel and Wairarapa have linked the loss of hundreds of hives with the appearance of another bee parasite, Lotmaria passim.

Other pests and diseases, as well as pesticides, starvation and overstocking, have also been blamed for contributing to bee losses.

But Landcare business development manager Christine Harper said they needed a lot more information to find out what was really going on.

"Everybody has heard on the news recently about some real problems, certainly in some parts of the country, with bees dying, sometimes through causes that are understood, and sometimes they're not understood, but we don't have the big picture.

"We're not hearing from the people whose bees are successful, for instance. So to build a baseline, we need to have a better, more scientific picture of the losses, but also, of what's going well with the bees."

John Hartnell - a member of one of the beekeeper organisations, the Bee Industry Group - agreed.

"We know historically from years of beekeeping that you do have losses. Things like, the queen will stop laying or she'll lose her fertility, or the bees will run out of stores over the winter and face almost a starvation situation, so you've got a very dwindled hive.

"What we are really looking to understand is, how many hives are affected each spring and is it regionally based - or is it right across the whole country?"

Ms Harper said the survey, which she described as the first of its kind, would be online for the next few months

"We will run all the way through the early part of the season where beekeepers are opening and inspecting their hives this spring, and that's well and truly underway in the north of the country.

"We're keen for those people to click the link and respond to the survey as soon as they can."