When it comes to wildlife tracking, we often think of large, majestic creatures like elephants and sea turtles. However, there’s one tiny but crucial pollinator that plays a vital role in the ecosystem and global food production: the humble bee. Researchers in the European Union are embarking on a groundbreaking project to better understand bee behavior and ensure their survival amidst biodiversity loss.
Bees are responsible for pollinating 80% of all flowering plants, including over 130 types of fruits and vegetables. This amounts to a staggering €550 billion per year in global food production. Dr. Mathieu Lihoreau, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Toulouse, emphasizes the need to comprehend how bees move and pollinate plants.
Enter the BEE-MOVE project, a five-year research initiative funded by the EU. Led by Dr. Lihoreau, the project aims to improve understanding of bee foraging and interactions. At an experimental farm in Toulouse, bees – both bumblebees and honeybees – will be released into fields devoid of real flowers. Instead, they will navigate towards robotic flowers that offer sugary rewards, while being tracked by radar technology.
By observing dozens of bees simultaneously, researchers can gain insights into their decision-making process, crop pollination methods, and the conservation of both wild bee populations and rare plant species. This research could revolutionize our understanding of bee behavior and lead to more effective strategies for their protection.
While the study of animal behavior has typically focused on larger creatures, Dr. Lihoreau’s fascination lies in understanding how bees navigate and make decisions. Bees rely on the sun, landscape features, and even other bees to find their way and memorize their surroundings. Recent studies indicate that bees may even exhibit emotions, doubts, and have the ability to detect electric fields and count.
The BEE-MOVE project utilizes innovative radar technology, a first in the field of ecology. This radar tracks honeybees and bumblebees without the need for antennas by emitting energy waves that bounce off objects. The radar will monitor the bees as they interact with the robotic flowers, eventually investigating the impact of contaminants like pesticides on their behavior.
Pesticides, such as neonicotinoids, pose a major threat to bees. These neurotoxins are used in agriculture and can disrupt the bees’ navigation systems, affecting their ability to forage and pollinate crops. The inclusion of contaminated sugar water in the study aims to shed light on how pesticides impact bee behavior.
Protecting bees is not only essential for their survival, but also for crop yields. Many farmers rely on healthy bee populations for successful pollination, especially in crops like strawberries and almonds. To monitor the health of hives in real-time, the iPollinate project, led by Dr. Joao Encarnacao, utilizes hive sensors and artificial intelligence.
Preserving bee populations and understanding their behavior is paramount. By uncovering the secrets of these buzzing wonders, we can take significant strides towards reversing biodiversity loss, ensuring food security, and safeguarding our ecosystems.
Q: Why are bees important?
A: Bees are crucial pollinators, responsible for pollinating 80% of flowering plants and contributing to global food production worth €550 billion per year.
Q: What is the BEE-MOVE project?
A: The BEE-MOVE project is a five-year research initiative funded by the EU that aims to understand bee behavior and interactions to improve crop pollination and preserve wild bee populations.
Q: How does the radar tracking work in the BEE-MOVE project?
A: The radar technology tracks honeybees and bumblebees without antennas by emitting energy waves that bounce off objects, allowing researchers to monitor their movements.
Q: Why are pesticides a threat to bees?
A: Pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids, can disrupt bees’ navigation systems and affect their ability to forage and pollinate crops, putting their survival at risk.
Q: How can hive sensors help protect bees?
A: Hive sensors equipped with artificial intelligence provide real-time monitoring of bee colonies, allowing farmers to detect any health issues and take necessary action to ensure successful pollination.