Scientists are equipping thousands of honeybees with tiny “backpack” sensors to study the cause of their decline as a global population.
WHY THE BEE POPULATION DECLINE IS BAD
The damaging effects of mass honeybee deaths on food supply chains have been observed, though scientists aren’t completely sure about what is causing the phenomenon. There is reason to worry: according to Mashable, the decline has caused people in China to pollinate by hand and in the United States’ almond industry has also suffered because of it.
In order to study the decline’s cause, Australian scientists have attached micro-sensor trackers (which look like microscopic backpacks) to the backs of 10,000 honeybees. According to The Christian Science Monitor, the tiny “backpacks” weigh about a third of what a bee is capable of carrying.
AUSTRALIA IS LEADING THE FIGHT AGAINST MASS BEE DEATHS
As part of an international effort to determine why honeybees are dying at extremely high levels, the devices were invented over a two year period in Tasmania by scientists at the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO). The organization, perhaps because Australia’s bee decline levels are much lower than many other countries and harmless by comparison, is leading an international campaign called the Global Initiative For Honey bee Health.
HOW THE BACKPACKS ON HONEYBEES WORK
In a press release, the organization likened the devices to a “vehicle e-tag system”.
“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,” Professor Paulo de Souza, the science leader of CSIRO, said in the statement. “We’re also investigating what key factors, or combination of factors, lead to bee deaths on mass.”
The “backpacks” send data to trackers located in bee hives that are about half the size of a credit card. Similar trackers have been used by scientists the past to study marine life.
Using the data received from the “backpacks”, researchers can sketch a model of honeybee behavior. Because they are not unpredictable creatures, the CSIRO scientists will analyze the data to discover environmental changes and stress factors for the honeybees that might clue them into why so many of them are dying.