Those who are interested in the Colony-Collapse Disorder phenomenon will probably enjoy this paper from PLoS entitled “What’s Killing American Honey Bees?” It lays out the history of mass bee die-offs – which have been recorded extensively by apiarists, and discusses whether or not major concern needs to be paid to the problem.
I still suspect that rather than this being a new problem it’s likely part of a normal pattern of fluctuation that has been observed in the record. While this swing is extreme, it’s early to suggest that this is an impending or prolonged disaster based on the history of such die-offs.
Some winter losses are normal, and because the proportion of colonies dying varies enormously from year to year, it is difficult to say when a crisis is occurring and when losses are part of the normal continuum. What is clear is that about one year in ten, apiarists suffer unusually heavy colony losses. This has been going on for a long time. In Ireland, there was a “great mortality of bees” in 950, and again in 992 and 1443 . One of the most famous events was in the spring of 1906, when most beekeepers on the Isle of Wight (United Kingdom) lost all of their colonies . American beekeepers also suffer heavy losses periodically. In 1903, in the Cache valley of Utah, 2000 colonies were lost to a mysterious “disappearing disease” following a “hard winter and cold spring” . More recently, there was an incident in 1995 in which Pennsylvania beekeepers lost 53% of colonies .
Often terms such as “disappearing disease” or “spring dwindling” are used to describe the syndrome in which large numbers of colonies die in spring due to a lack of adult bees [7,8,9]. However in 2007, some beekeepers experienced 80-100% losses. This is certainly the extreme end of a continuum, so perhaps there is indeed some new factor in play.
It’s a very good summary and because it’s PLoS, it’s free for all.