A nationwide network to monitor and maintain honey bee health is the aim of the Bee Informed Partnership, a five-year, $5 million program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture and led by Penn State.

The Bee Informed Partnership will use an epidemiological approach to identify bee common management practices and use them to develop best practices on a regional and operationally appropriate level. The partnership will include many institutions already involved in pollinator work, but will also strive to include citizens involved in bee keeping or other aspects of the problem for data collection and integration.

"We would like to reduce honey bee mortality, increase beekeeper profitability and enhance adoption of sustainable management systems in beekeeping," said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, senior extension associate in the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, who will lead the project. "At the same time we want to increase the reliability of production in pollinator dependent crops and increase the profitability of pollinator-dependent producers."

Project partners will create and maintain a dynamic Honey Bee Health database with an interactive Web-based interface. Penn State and partners also will survey colony mortality, pathogens and parasites, as well as beekeeping management strategies, costs and outputs. They will create a pollinator quality and availability reporting system and an emerging-issues alert system.

Some of the surveys planned by the partnership include the continuation of the colony winter loss survey, an annual survey of management practices and a survey of pollinator availability. Other surveys will focus on determining colony mortality, parasite loads and socioeconomic factors.

"By surveying beekeepers about their management practices as well as their colonies' overwintering success, we can use epidemiological methods to tell beekeepers which practices work and which do not," vanEngelsdorp said.

The multistate team hopes that their work and especially their educational efforts to introduce the best management practices will reduce national losses in honey bee populations by 50 percent in the next five years, according to vanEngelsdorp.

Co-investigators on the project are the University of California -- California Cooperative Extension, University of Illinois, University of Georgia, University of Tennessee, University of Minnesota, North Carolina State University, Appalachian State University, Lincoln University, USDA-ARS and the Florida Department of Agriculture. Other collaborators include NASA and USDA-Animal and Plant Health Service.