US Department of Agriculture begins survey of honeybee colonies in 13 states

Concerned US Agriculture Department officials on Monday announced the start of an ambitious survey of honeybee colonies in California and a dozen other states. "There has been a disturbing drop in the number of U.S. bee colonies over the last few years, while the demand for commercial bee pollination services continues to grow," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. California's almond crop alone requires more than 1.4 million colonies of bees annually, amounting to more than half of all bees in the United States. The survey of 320 apiaries, though, is not a census of the total bee population. Instead, it will focus on mortality and troublemakers. Specialists from the Agricultural Research Service and Pennsylvania State University will collect bees and debris from selected apiaries. An acutely detailed, 22-page set of instructions specifies every step of the operation. So far, scientists have not identified a single cause for the population decline. Potential culprits include new microbes or viruses, pesticides and environmental stress. Agriculture Department scientists say cell phones aren't a problem, despite earlier speculation.

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