Honey bee (Apis mellifera) populations declined by 44% during 2015 – 2016, according to the Bee Informed program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which surveys commercial and small-scale beekeepers to track the health of their bee colonies. Non-native colonial honey bees are the most important pollinators for commercial agriculture, providing between $10 to $15 billion in pollination services annually.
Bee Informed notes that “many factors are contributing to colony losses” and names the varroa mite (Varroa jacobsoni) as “a clear culprit”. Just when or where this honey bee ecoparasite was “introduced” to the U.S. remains unclear. It was found in Maryland in 1979 and in Florida in 1987. This exotic pest kills only imported honey bees but can be spread by our native bees for short distances.
Honey bees are colonial and collect pollen in specialized pollen baskets on their legs known as corbicula, as shown in the stunning photo above of a honey bee collecting pollen from native yellowtop (Flaveria linearis) taken by Bob Montanaro.
Bee Informed also cited “pesticides and malnutrition caused by changing land use patterns” as an important factors in the colony decline. You can plant native wildflowers like fall-flowering yellowtop to help all bee populations.