EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan farmers rely on wild bees and managed honey bees for crop pollination, but according to recent Michigan State University research, the percentage of bees that die over the winter in Michigan is 28.6 percent, nearly two percentage points higher than the national average.
At the Michigan State University's Pollinator Performance Center, researchers and educators like Ana Heck use honeybee colonies to teaching beekeepers, veterinarians, and others, how to cut down their colony loss and promote pollinator health.
In Heck and her team's recent report, "Responding to the US National Pollinator Plan: A Case Study in Michigan," the team created bee yards in four areas across Michigan to track colony health.
"For this project we collect samples every month," said Heck, an apiculture extension educator at MSU. "So we put about 300 bees in a bottle and we send it to the University of Maryland's lab and they analyze it and quantify about how many varroa mites we had in the sample of bees, and then also look for other health issues or indicators."
The team then shares those results with local beekeepers to teach them how they can better care for the colonies.
"For beekeepers in Michigan, it is really hard for them to keep their colonies healthy because of parasites, diseases, and not enough forage throughout the season and pesticides," Heck said.
The research shows that decline in honeybee health in Michigan is largely due to parasites, pesticides and lack of flowers.
MSU researchers believe that if beekeepers work with them and take their data into consideration, they can better monitor for varroa mites and other parasites.
When it comes to pesticides, the research shows the majority of pesticides in pollen come from agricultural weeds. Therefore integrating better habitat management will improve bee health as well as reducing the use of pesticides and their toxicity levels.
Ultimately, the research shows the number one way to help bees can be implemented by all of us... growing more flowers.
"There are lots of ways to support honeybee health and bee health in general," said Heck. "And for most people that's going to be planting flowers for bees. That's really a great way for bees to deal with the issues they're facing like disease and parasites, is to have good nutrition throughout the season. So that's our number one recommendation for keeping bees healthy."
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