It seems the polar vortex might not have been so awful for honey bees. A new federal report found that the insect superstars could be experiencing a population upswing following a winter of reduced losses, when honey bees exhibited a population decline of 23.2 percent, as opposed to 30.5 percent the year before. The Department of Agriculture polled thousands of beekeepers about their colony numbers this year and has yet to determine why the numbers appear to have improved.
"It's better than some of the years we've suffered," Dennis vanEngelsdorp, one of the survey's lead entomologists, told the New York Times. But the results still aren't good: "we've gone from horrible to bad."
The losses are in keeping with ongoing devastation to bee populations that has occurred in recent years, which researchers believe results from a variety of factors. One of the most often studied -- but least prevalent in recent months -- is the mysterious phenomenon of colony collapse disorder, wherein bees simply disappear. But researchers also suspect that indiscriminate mixed use of pesticides, parasite infestation, extreme weather and the loss of edible plant-life have contributed hugely to bees' decline as well.
And so while it's heartening to see that bee losses have gone down, one year is not a trend; the figures still indicate a need for concerted efforts to protect the world's bee species. The U.S. and EU have already taken steps to boost bee populations, banning harmful pesticides and planting useful flora, but it's going to take some more work.