MN Impact: Discovering and Sharing the Causes of Bee Colony Collapse

November 17, 2014

The Issue

Given that bees pollinate fruits, vegetables and nuts, and pollination is required for about one-third of all food production, recent concern and focus on declining bee populations highlight the importance of saving this essential agricultural resource.

Beekeepers, food scientists and entomologists are worried throughout North America, Europe and other continents as bees keep dying. About one-third of bee colonies each year have been dying for the past six years.

What Has Been Done?

Few people have contributed as much to understanding the life and health of the honeybee in recent decades as Marla Spivak, the U of M entomologist who is a world leader in bee research.

She developed the “Minnesota Hygienic” bee which has resistance to disease.

Her research has helped identify several culprits to bee decline, called “colony collapse,” but the use and timing of insecticide applications have been identified as chief suspects. Neonicotinoid insecticides are used by both crop growers and urban gardeners and are lethal to bees.

In addition to long-standing short courses and online courses, national and international conversations like the recent TED Talk on the subject, and downloadable fact sheets, two new important programs were added to Extension Programming.


The focus on bee health has led the Minnesota Legislature to pass a pollinator habitat bill. It appropriates $150,000 a year to improve bee habitat and increase public awareness of pollinators.
The legislation also requires state agencies to create a report on pollinator habitat and to establish a process for reviewing the safety of neonicotinoid insecticides.

Working in collaboration with this research, U of M Extension has partnered with the Department of Entomology on the Bee Squad for urban residents and Bee Tech Transfer Teams for commercial beekeepers, to teach strategies to support the health of bees and bee colonies and to raise awareness of the threat to bees.

Nurseries and garden centers are beginning to offer substitutes to neonicotinoid insecticides based on public concern and demand.

Marla Spivak examining a beehive.

Marla Spivak closely examines a beehive for any abnormalities.