If you haven't heard the phrase "colony-collapse disorder" in the news the last several months, expect a fresh barrage of media reports later this spring.

Beekeepers are reporting that this winter was one of the worst ever for colonies. More than three years after reports of bee losses around the nation, scientists still do not know why populations are suffering from the affliction, also known as CCD. Theories range from disease to stress to increasing damage from pesticides — with little information on how to prevent future deaths.

As the Washington Post points out, the commercial beekeeping industry is struggling to provide pollination services to the nations' farmers. Nearly one-third of food crops rely on insect pollination.

A recently published survey put hive losses at about 30 percent per year — but that was based on data before this winter. "Everybody is seeing [bee] losses this winter," apiary David Hackenberg told The Washington Post. "This was probably the worst year ever."

Hackenberg added that he and other major commercial beekeepers have seen "50 percent or better" losses since late fall and in the winter. From the article,

Eighty percent of his afflicted hives showed signs of CCD, Hackenberg said. With the condition, foraging worker bees don't return to a hive even if a full brood is waiting to hatch. One theory is that the foragers, knowing they are sick, fly off to die rather than compromise the hive.
With no solution in sight for fixing the problem, groups are now seeking to increase opportunities for hives and beekeepers. In New York City, a ban on keeping bees within city limits is under review for repeal. Lifting the ban would allow city residents to keep bees without the risk of violating the current health code and being fined $2,000. (The health department currently considers honeybees to be wild animals.)

Michael d'Estries ( @michaeldestries ) covers science, technology, art, and the beautiful, unusual corners of our incredible world.

Bee colonies suffer devastating winter
Colony-collapse disorder or CCD is hitting harder than ever, according to early estimates.