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Bees fitted with sensors to monitor environment

Honey bees in Australia are being fitted with sensors as part of a research program to monitor the insects and their environment using so-called swarm sensing.

The research is being led by CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) and aims to improve honey bee pollination and productivity on farms as well as help understand the drivers of bee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a condition decimating honey bee populations worldwide.

Up to 5,000 sensors, measuring 2.5mm x 2.5mm are being fitted to the backs of the bees in Hobart, Tasmania, before being released into the wild. According to CSIRO, it is the first time such large numbers of insects have been used for environmental monitoring.

In a statement project science leader, Dr Paulo de Souza said: ‘Honey bees play a vital role in the landscape through a free pollination service for agriculture, which various crops rely on to increase yields. A recent CSIRO study showed bee pollination in Faba beans can lead to a productivity increase of 17 per cent.’

‘Around one third of the food we eat relies on pollination, but honey bee populations around the world are crashing because of the dreaded Varroa mite and Colony Collapse Disorder. Thankfully, Australia is currently free from both of those threats.’


Source: CSIRO

Honey bees in Australia are being fitted with sensors as part of a world-first research program to monitor the insects and their environment using a technique known as swarm sensing

The research will also look at the impacts of agricultural pesticides on honey bees by monitoring insects that feed at sites with trace amounts of commonly used chemicals.

‘Using this technology, we aim to understand the bee’s relationship with its environment. This should help us understand optimal productivity conditions as well as further our knowledge of the cause of colony collapse disorder,’ said Dr de Souza.

The sensors are tiny Radio Frequency Identification sensors that record when the insect passes a particular checkpoint. The information is then sent remotely to a central location where researchers can use the signals from the 5,000 sensors to build a comprehensive three dimensional model and visualise how these insects move through the landscape.

‘Bees are social insects that return to the same point and operate on a very predictable schedule. Any change in their behaviour indicates a change in their environment. If we can model their movements, we’ll be able to recognise very quickly when their activity shows variation and identify the cause,’ said Dr de Souza.

To attach the sensors, the bees are refrigerated for a short period, which puts them into a rest state long enough for the sensors to be secured to their backs with an adhesive. After a few minutes, the bees awaken and are ready to return to their hive and start gathering valuable information.

‘This is a non-destructive process and the sensors appear to have no impact on the bee’s ability to fly and carry out its normal duties,’ Dr de Souza said.

The next stage of the project is to reduce the size of the sensors to 1mm so they can be attached to smaller insects such as mosquitoes and fruit flies.

Readers' comments (9)

  • Very inspiring, a very relevant use of technology. In future swarm sensing and IT analysis could be used in all sorts of ecological situations in order to recover lost ground.

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  • A great bit of science in for Bumble bees with micro cameras on their backs!

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  • I'm wondering how close a bee must be to a sensor to be recorded. If it's quite close, sensor positioning would be crucial to obtaining statistically significant data.

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  • You will have to test for radionuclides aswell! As if you didn't know!

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  • "Any change in their behavior indicates a change in their environment"- Dr. Paulo de Sousa. May I suggest as a former beekeeper and lover of bees, I would turn the quotation around - "Any change in their environment indicates a change in their behavior." Think about that!

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  • Series of fascinating proposals: presumably the same types of sensors could be attached to almost any other 'insect, animal, bird, fish as a route to establishing more data about their natural habitats. If and where this co-incides with human interests, for good or ill so much the better! In essence they are the natural equivalent of the recently reported mini-'helicopter' used to map potentially oil/gas bearing strata. in difficult places.

    Smarter systems, Operations, processes are perhaps the key, not necessarily smarter technology. Fellow bloggers will be aware of my views on the 'sham' so-called professions. Our researches and advances are sadly offering them faster and more efficient ways of doing things that are less and less necessary!

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  • They are looking in the wrong direction, if they have Monsanto foods there. The insecticide in the plants kills the harmful insects as well as the beneficial ones.

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  • Stingless bees from Brazil are also suffering with CCD. A partnership could be made between research groups of both countries (Brazil and Australia)

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  • Well,

    Once they get the bee SKYNET system working then the humans will be next. Along with IP connected toilets, toasters and TV's.

    Womb to the Tomb coverage!

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