Micro-sensors are helping to track bees, providing information on their behaviour and environment that can help to alleviate threats to the creatures, which are essential for the pollination of about one-third of the food we eat.
Australian research organisation CSIRO is leading the global initiative for honey bee health – an international collaboration of researchers, beekeepers, farmers, industry, and technology companies aimed at better understanding what is harming bees and finding solutions to help secure crop pollination.
Integral to the research effort are micro-sensors that are manually fitted to bees which work like a vehicle e-tag system, with strategically placed receivers identifying individual bees and recording their movements in and around bee hives.
“The tiny technology allows researchers to analyse the effects of stress factors including disease, pesticides, air pollution, water contamination, diet and extreme weather on the movements of bees and their ability to pollinate,” says Professor Paulo de Souza, CSIRO science leader.
“We’re also investigating what key factors, or combination of factors, lead to bee deaths on mass.
“The sensors, working in partnership with Intel technology, operate in a similar way to an aeroplane’s black box flight recorder in that they provide us with vital information about what stress factors impact bee health.”
As bees are normally predictable creatures, changes in their behaviour indicate stress factors or a change in their environment. By modelling bee movement researchers can help identify the causes of stress in order to protect the important pollinating work honey bees do and identify any disease or other biosecurity risks.
The international initiative is being mounted to assist in uniting the efforts of those working in the critical area of protecting bee health.
“The time is now for a tightly-focused, well-coordinated national and international effort, using the same shared technology and research protocols, to help solve the problems facing honey bees worldwide before it is too late,” Professor de Souza says.
Pictured: A sensor is placed on to the back of a drone bee. Data gathered by the Global Initiative for Honey bee Health (GIHH) will provide valuable information to scientists, beekeepers, primary producers, industry groups and governments to achieve impacts around improved biosecurity measures, crop pollination, bee health, food production and better strategies on sustainable farming practices, food security and impacts on ecosystems in general. © CSIRO