We are often confronted with the alarming news that bees are dying out. Is this really the case? In answering this question it’s important to distinguish between honey bees – typically managed by beekeepers – and wild bees.
For honey bees, the clear answer is no.
In fact, managed honey bee colonies have increased worldwide by 65 percent since 1961, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
This reflects that it is attractive, in some regions, to be in the beekeeping business, either producing honey or delivering pollination services; as more beekeepers means more bee hives.
In Europe, honey bee colony numbers have been continuously on the rise or stable over the last 14 years, with more than 18 million colonies reported in 2016 (FAO). In North America, colony numbers have been stable at around 3 million.
Even so, this does not deflect from the fact that honey bees still face many challenges. In the past decade, increased honey bee colony overwintering losses have been seen sporadically, indicating that fewer colonies than normal were able to survive to the following spring.
One cannot speak of a general wild bee decline though. Wild bees have very heterogeneous biologies and needs. Furthermore, data on the development of most wild bee populations is scarce in many regions, making it difficult to assess their overall development.
Yet, we know that some wild bee species or species groups in specific regions are decreasing.