Many types of plants, including fruit and vegetable crops, depend on animals for pollination. Although honey bees are often first thought of as pollinators, many other types of animals pollinate crops and wildflowers, including wild bees, ants, beetles, wasps, lizards, birds, and bats. The EPA is concerned about declines in pollinator health, and is working to protect bees and other pollinators from pesticide risks through regulatory actions, voluntary changes to pesticide use by registrants and research programs aimed at increasing the understanding of factors associated with declining pollinator health.
On This Page
- Declining Pollinator Health and Colony Collapse Disorder
- Federal Efforts to Improve Bee Health
- EPA Efforts to Address Pesticide Exposure
- Additional Resources
The EPA's pollinator protection efforts were furthered by a report documenting the threat to pollinators, the National Research Council's report on the Status of Pollinators in North America and the advent of Colony Collapse Disorder in 2006.
The prevailing theory among scientists in the EPA, USDA and global scientific and regulatory community is that the general declining health of honey bees is related to complex interactions among multiple stressors including:
- pests (e.g., varroa mite), pathogens (e.g., the bacterial disease American foulbrood) and viruses.
- poor nutrition (e.g., due to loss of foraging habitat and increased reliance on supplemental diets);
- pesticide exposure;
- bee management practices (e.g., long migratory routes to support pollination services); and
- lack of genetic diversity.
More details on the current understanding of the health of honey bees in the United States are available in the following report: http://www.usda.gov/documents/ReportHoneyBeeHealth.pdf (72 pp, 1.2MB, PDF).
Colony Collapse Disorder is the phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind a queen, plenty of food and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees and the queen. Once thought to pose a major long term threat to bees, reported cases of CCD have declined substantially over the last five years. The number of hives that do not survive over the winter months – the overall indicator for bee health – has maintained an average of about 30 percent since 2008. While winter losses remain relatively high, the number of those losses attributed to CCD has dropped from roughly 60 percent of total hives lost in 2008 to 26 percent in 2012.
Please see our Colony Collapse Disorder web page for more information.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is leading the federal government’s effort to examine CCD and honey bee health. The EPA is part of this effort and is focusing on aspects related to pesticides.
While the EPA and USDA attempt to understand the role pesticides may be playing in pollinator declines, recent declines in commercial honey bees have refocused efforts to identify and implement best management practices to minimize unintended contact between bees and pesticides. This is particularly challenging given the critical role bees play in pollinating agricultural crops as well as the important role insecticides play in controlling pests in agriculture. The EPA and USDA are leading collaborative efforts with a wide range of stakeholders to keep bees safe from pesticides.
- Region 4 bee brochure (PDF) (2 pp, 626k) describes how to protect beneficial bugs.
- Learn more about pollinators through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Pollinators website. Find out about the threats to pollinators and how you can help by viewing fun and educational materials on pollinators on this website.
- Learn more about pollinators on this website: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/plantsanimals/pollinate/
- Natural Resources Conservation Service documents for pollinator conservation and enhancement: http://plants.usda.gov/pollinators/NRCSdocuments.html
- NAPPC brochures including Your School and Pollinators, Protecting Monarchs, Bumblebees are Essential, and Inviting Bees to your Property: http://pollinator.org/brochures.htm
- Find out more about CCD from the USDA Agricultural Research Service. The Agricultural Research Service (ARS), USDA's internal research agency, is leading several efforts into possible CCD causes and striving to enhance overall honey bee health by improving bee management practices, as well as studying honey bee diseases and parasites and how best to control them.