You ask, we answer.
April is BIP survey time! Regardless of whether you are new to taking the Bee Informed Partnership Colony Loss and Management survey or a regular by now, you may have some questions.
Are you not sure why you should take the survey? Do you wonder about some of the questions in the survey? We may have some answers for you! Read over these frequently asked questions and our answers. We hope this is helpful and will help you to answer the survey here.
Q: Why should I bother taking the survey? What difference will it make?
A: Surveys fall under the motto: The more the better! The more beekeepers respond, the better the results will represent the U.S. beekeeping industry. Your answer to this survey will help us to realize three main objectives:
- Every year since 2007, we estimate the level of colony loss experienced by U.S. beekeepers. This is an important legacy, and one of the largest datasets on honey bee colonies there is! Comparing the present to the past allows us to see how the colony loss situation progresses (or fails to progress). Additionally, we can compare this large honey bee dataset to other factors that are observed over long periods of time, like climate. By answering the survey, you are going to be part of history!
- We want to know whether management practices and colony loss are correlated. This approach is also used in human epidemiology, where they identify our best and worst habits and how they can impact our health. Correlation is not causation though. There are limits to our conclusions, but we can form hypotheses that can then be tested experimentally (which we also do in our lab and in the field).
- We are documenting trends in beekeeping. For one, we are documenting beekeeping management practices over time. This allows us to identify what’s popular in the industry as well as trends in the adoption of different beekeeping practices. Similarly, we document beekeepers’ perception of different risks such as pests and diseases among others. This quantitative measure can inform extension specialists, scientists and policy makers about what issues matter to beekeepers, and what they should focus on.
Q: I already took a survey 2 months ago. Is this survey different?
A: Yes, it is. Every year, the Bee Informed Partnership Loss and Management Survey is available online between April 1st and April 30th—not sooner or later.
Some of you may be contacted independently by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) of the USDA to participate in their quarterly colony loss survey. We encourage all beekeepers to answer both the Bee Informed Partnership and NASS surveys.
We know there are more and more questionnaire-type surveys on bees from different groups. What may seem like a lot is good news: we all want to know how the bees are doing!
Also, the Bee Informed Partnership is a very active organization, and we have several programs running in parallel. Examples include the Sentinel Apiary Program, and we are also involved in the APHIS National Honey Bee Survey run by the University of Maryland Bee Lab. Each of these programs has a short questionnaire that participating beekeepers fill out after they inspect their colonies.
The Bee Informed Partnership Colony Loss and Management Survey is different. It has been around for the past 16 years (since 2007), and it differs in the type of questions asked, the target audience, the reports and the analyses. This long-lasting success is only possible because of dedicated beekeepers that support us every year by answering the survey.
Q: Does this survey require a login? I could not access the survey.
A: No, the survey should be accessible without a login. However, if you run into this issue when following a personalized link from an email, you are not alone. Our IT staff believes this might be due to ad block settings. We apologize for the inconvenience.
Should you encounter problems trying to access the survey, close your browser and re-click the original link you received, go on our main website where you will find a “Take the survey” button, or simply copy this URL directly into your browser: https://beeinformed.org/take-survey/
Q: I stepped away from my computer and the survey timed out. Can I take it again?
A: Your computer has a long-term memory; if you are utilizing the same computer, you should be directed right back where you left off, or a few questions before—just click your way through to the last completed page.
If you are not redirected, or if you are using a different device, the answer is: yes, you can take it again. Before looking at the colony numbers, we filter the survey responses to remove duplicates (for that, it is especially useful for you to add your email address when prompted!). We will consider the version with your most complete set of answers. Please contact us if that happened near the end of the survey, we might be able to help you.
Q: Why are you selectively using data and not taking all respondents into account?
A: While every single answer is super important to us, you are right: we do exclude specific survey responses. BUT we have a very strict protocol before invalidating answers (which we explain in the peer-reviewed publications every year, listed here: https://beeinformed.org/citizen-science/loss-and-management-survey/). Answers are mainly excluded if the numbers don’t add up. For example, if the provided colony numbers result in more than 100% or less than 0% loss, we must assume that something went wrong during the answering process. In that case, we consider that response invalid. We don’t exclude responses without a good reason—the goal is to include as many survey responses as possible. Remember, the more the better!
Q: I am a commercial beekeeper / I am a small-scale beekeeper. Are the survey questions relevant to me?
A: It’s fascinating that commercial beekeepers and small-scale beekeepers run their operations differently and tend to keep different records at times. We understand the need for tailored questions. That is why we designed two versions of the survey in 2020, after working with a panel of beekeepers that provided insight into this issue.
We hope this will provide a format that fits each group best. Previews for both versions are available here: https://beeinformed.org/citizen-science/loss-and-management-survey/. To prepare for our inquisitive questions, we would recommend printing your version in advance of taking the survey online so you can be ready with your notes from the season when you start the survey.
Q: I am confused about your question on “average colony size” at any given time point; how is this relevant and how should I approach this question?
A: This question aims at getting a better sense of how strong an average honey bee colony in your apiary is before going into the next season of the survey period. In the spirit of keeping the survey short, we ask beekeepers to summarize the strength of all their colonies into one number instead of providing an individual number per each.
When it comes to estimating the average colony size in your apiary, you are estimating the frames of bees in each colony first. Remember, we define 1 frame of bees as 1 deep Langstroth frame fully occupied by bees on both sides. Consider the following scenario:
On 1 October 2023, you have 7 colonies.
Three of them are nucs. Each of them has roughly 3 frames of bees. That results in 9 frames of bees across all nucs.
Additionally, you have 4 colonies in double deeps with 12 frames of bees each. That results in 48 frames of bees across those large colonies.
Additionally, two of the large colonies also have medium-sized honey supers, and 8 super frames are occupied by bees. That is 16 medium-sized frames of bees or ~10.5 deep frames of bees in the honey super (a medium frame equals ⅔ of a deep frame).
Calculate average colony size by adding up all frames of bees (9 + 48 + 10.5 = 67.5) and divide by the number of colonies you have (67.5 : 7 = 9.6). Your average colony size would be ~10 frames of bees.
Q: I have not been able to assess the survivorship of my colonies yet as we are way up north. Can I still participate in the survey?
A: Yes, you can! We acknowledge that surveying at the beginning of April presents northern beekeepers with a challenge. Maybe there is an opportunity later in the month? The survey is open until April 30th, so even if you cannot assess your colonies until later in April, you can still submit your answers by then.
If worst comes to worst, please give us your best estimate on the number of colonies alive on April 1st. Since this is an annual effort, any colony death that occurred after April 30th would theoretically be captured in next year’s survey. We would appreciate your answers in either case!
Q: Why is the survey so long? But also: why are you not covering all management issues in your survey?
A: There is a trade-off between a survey being thorough and covering lots of issues, and being annoyingly long. It is hard to find a balance, and we don’t want to keep you on the computer for hours. In 2021, we shortened the management section of the survey! We are now focusing on one important management topic each year, rotating through topics. This allows us to ask thorough questions while keeping the survey short. This year (2023) the focus will be on pests and diseases management.
Please continue to share your thoughts with us! We take participants’ comments seriously and try to improve the survey accordingly. A lot of questions also have open entries that allow beekeepers to add aspects they feel are missing from the main proposed answers. There is also a specific comments box at the very end of the survey where you can leave your feedback. We are always looking forward to nice, encouraging messages too. 😊
Q: How is it that this survey is more complicated than my taxes?!
A: Oh yes, it is tax season, isn’t it? Because this survey is an annual, long-term effort, we try to keep our questions consistent over the years. That is the only way we can compare results on colony loss and beekeeping practices among different years. Seems easy right? Well, you all know this: “Ask 5 beekeepers a question and you get 15 answers.” Thus, it is crucial to add plenty of detail to avoid room for interpretation. In contrast to your taxes, we offer you a preview of the survey questions (it’s much easier to answer the survey with a printed version of it).
Q: What does the BIP team get out of this?
A: Thank you for asking! While there are some old-timers on the survey team, we also have students working on this project. By answering the survey, you are contributing to the graduate students’ thesis/dissertation chapters and publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals (listed here: https://beeinformed.org/citizen-science/loss-and-management-survey/), and ultimately their academic endeavors.
The Bee Informed Partnership is working closely with scientists; based on your answers, we can highlight topics that are important to beekeepers that need to be addressed in their research.
Q: What do I get out of this?
You mean apart from proudly representing the beekeepers in our country? It depends on your interests. Consider the following benefits.
I’m interested in…
- Helping you out! • Thank you, this is highly appreciated. Without you we couldn’t do any of this!
- Bees • Once a beekeeper, always a beekeeper, right? People and honey bees have been interconnected for many centuries, but they’re not the only bees (or even the only pollinators) that are in trouble. As beekeepers we can be stewards for other pollinators and our precious environment, too. This survey is part of a greater effort to better understand and help pollinators. Taking the survey and letting us know what’s happening with your bees is one of the best things you can do in less than 1 hour to be part of it. Let’s set an example.
- My bees • Beekeepers love their bees, but do we know what they’re doing throughout the season? Print a copy of the survey preview or get a notebook, and take notes throughout the year. You will get to know the tendencies of your bees by keeping good records—plus, answering the survey will be much easier. Some beekeepers like to experiment with their own bees to test what works and what doesn’t, but many of us may like to have some guidance on what to do with their bees. Consider looking through our other programs, like the Sentinel Apiary Program; they’re all helpful tools to become a confident, sustainable beekeeper.
- Learning • Yes! When it comes to bees, there is never an end to learning. Take advantage of our reports and blog posts; tease out the information that interests you, and begin your journey into the bee (not rabbit) hole. Are you interested in Best Management Practices (BMPs) for beekeeping? Read the following articles published by members of Bee Informed Partnership: Survey-derived best management practices for backyard beekeepers improve colony health and reduce mortality, Best Management Practices Increase Profitability of Small-Scale US Beekeeping Operations, Prioritizing changes in management practices associated with reduced winter honey bee colony losses for US beekeepers.
- Science • Many scientists dedicate their research to asking questions about honey bee health. Honey bee health is a complex matter and includes many different factors. Your answers to this survey are contributing to the better understanding of honey bee health and providing insight into best management practices available to beekeepers under current circumstances.