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Beekeepers saw 23% of bees die last winter: US survey

WASHINGTON--Nearly one out of four American honeybee colonies died this winter — a loss that's not quite as bad as recent years, says a new U.S. Department of Agriculture survey of beekeepers.

Under siege from parasites, disease, pesticide use, nutrition problems and a mysterious sudden die-off, 23 percent of bee colonies failed and experts say that's considerably less than the previous year or the eight-year average of 30 percent losses.

“It's better news than it could have been,” said Dennis van Engelsdorp, a University of Maryland entomology professor who led the survey. “It's not good news.”

Before a parasitic mite — just one of a handful of problems attacking the crucial-for-pollination honeybees — started killing bees in 1987, beekeepers would be embarrassed if they lost more than 5 or 10 percent of their colonies over the winter. Now they see a 23-percent loss as a bit of a break, said survey co-author Jeff Pettis, USDA's bee research chief.

“It's encouraging that if anything it's not a steady downward trend,” said University of Illinois entomology professor May Berenbaum, who wasn't part of the survey of 7,200 beekeepers.

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