Aussie Scientists Strap Tiny Sensors To Bees To Study Colony Decline

I hate bees, but this is intelligently adorable: the CSIRO has strapped tiny backpack-like sensors onto the backs of Aussie bees to help understand the science of a troubling decline in global bee populations.

Australia is currently free from some of the nastier causes of a declining global bee population, including the Varroa mite and Colony Collapse Disorder and the CSIRO want to keep it that way. These sensors will be used to study the effects of pesticides on bees by monitoring insects that feed at sites with trace amounts of commonly used chemicals.

Bees are crucial to the global ecosystem due to their pollination abilities, boosting the yield of various crops. The scientist at the head of the bee sensor project, Dr Paulo de Souza, said that a Faba bean crop had received a 17 per cent productivity boost thanks to bee pollination, so keeping that up is important for local, national and international food security.

"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," Dr de Souza said.

The sensors themselves are tiny 2.5mm x 2.5mm squares attached to the backs of 5000 bees, and the CSIRO explains that they work similar to a toll tag on your car:

The sensors are tiny Radio Frequency Identification sensors that work in a similar way to a vehicle's e-tag, recording 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 5000 sensors to build a comprehensive three dimensional model and visualise how these insects move through the landscape.

They're also adorable.

The tests are being carried out in Tasmania, and the CSIRO scientists have observed that the sensors have no impact on the bee's ability to fly or conduct normal worker tasks. To attach the sensors, scientists refrigerate the bees which puts them into a sort of hibernation mode, allowing the sensors to be attached before the bee is released back into the wild to return to its colony. Bees are social animals, so there's no risk that the bee won't be able to find its way back.

The CSIRO wants to reduce the sensors down to 1mm-squared so they can be attached to other insects like flies and mosquitos.

I love Aussie science.

[CSIRO]

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