It all started back in 2008 when EFSA commissioned a report on bee surveillance systems in the European Union. The European Commission responded to the report’s conclusions – that existing surveillance systems were not harmonised and that honeybee colony mortality could not be compared across Europe – by setting up an EU Reference Laboratory for Honeybee Health and funding EPILOBEE, the first EU-wide monitoring programme on honeybee mortality.
Earlier this month EFSA published the results of a statistical analysis of the EPILOBEE dataset. The objective was to statistically link honeybee mortality with potential risk factors such as disease prevalence or beekeeping practices. Needless to say, the analysis threw up some fascinating findings; but it also identifies important lessons to be learnt for future monitoring activities.
Here at EFSA we are examining the recommendations of the report in great detail as our Multiple Stressors in Bees (MUST-B) project will rely heavily on the availability of consistent, structured datasets. And that will mean getting representative and high quality data in order to develop a tool for the risk assessment of pesticides on honeybee colonies that also considers multiple stressors and factors affecting bee health at the landscape level.
Following a harmonised protocol based on the EU Reference Laboratory, EPILOBEE surveyed nearly 6,000 randomly selected apiaries in 17 Member States between 2012 and 2014, collecting data on honeybee colony mortality and potential involved factors through field questionnaires and laboratory tests.
Big differences in mortality rates were observed between countries and between the two years that were surveyed. The analysis establishes some interesting associations between mortality rates and factors such as beekeeper practices and training on the management of colony health.
Overall, the outcomes of EPILOBEE represent an important step forward in respect to the development of future surveys taking into account the importance of multiple stressors and the dynamic nature of the environment in which honeybee colonies exist.
Giorgio Sperandio is a trainee in EFSA’s Scientific Committee and Emerging Risks Unit.