In Australia, bees are under considerable stress. There is a shortage of bees for crop pollination, although one-third of the country’s food crops depend on bee pollination. There are many reasons for this shortfall, including pesticides, diseases, climate change, habitat loss and much more.
The NSW beekeeping community has not fully bounced back from the devastation of the 2019-2020 bushfires that ravaged 250,000 hives. In those fires, 10,000 bees were incinerated, and 90,000 hives lost their bees as bees abandon a hive if fire or smoke is approaching.
In New South Wales (NSW) 65% of all bees are used only in almond pollination. The remaining 35% of bees must pollinate such crops as cherries, applies, carrots, berries, and canola.
Monitoring bee health can be a challenge because there are few indicators when things go wrong. Often by the time beekeepers figure out that a hive is at risk, it is too late to save the bees.
Hive temperature is emerging as one of the potentially best ways to realize that trouble is brewing in the hive. A healthy bee colony maintains a constant temperature of 35°C which is ideal for bees and larvae.
In this 9:39-minute video by TEDx Talks, Professor Andrew Barron discusses why he is building a model of a bee brain:
Bees have a difficult time maintaining an even temperature and regulating it when things get challenging. The way bees lower the temperature is by fanning water droplets throughout the hive.
A two-year pilot scientific program by Macquarie University in Sydney will test whether high-precision electronic sensors can monitor hive temperatures and alert beekeepers when the bees are in danger.
This new project aims to support Australia’s dwindling honeybee population with automated early-warning systems for when hives are at risk.
The Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation is a philanthropic organization. It awarded a $300,000 grant for this research. It is hoped the hive sensors will be able to alert beekeepers to fluctuations in temperature to head off a decline in hive health.
Professor Andrew Barron, project leader, said an early-warning signal gives beekeepers the chance to intervene before it’s too late. It is hoped that monitoring temperature with these inexpensive remote sensors will provide vital early red flags.
They hope to find a reliable, easy-to-measure signal that alerts to when a colony is in trouble at the earliest possible point, so beekeepers’ efforts can be directed to where they’ll make the greatest impact, Professor Barron explained.
Bee pollination is estimated to be worth $4-6 billion to the Australian economy at current levels, according to AgriFutures Australia. That number is expected to rise as demand increases.
Although beekeepers are skillful at stepping in to strengthen weak colonies, scientists realize that when a honeybee colony is under excessive stress, it can appear to be just fine right up to the point where it collapses.
Professor Barron says that if troubled hives can be identified early enough, beekeepers can intervene earlier and there will be more options to rescue those colonies.
The project begins in November 2021 and runs until October 2023.