Researchers in Australia have placed RFID tags on 5,000 honey bees in an attempt to better understand the drivers of bee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a condition decimating honey bee populations worldwide.
The project, which utilizes RFID tags measuring 2.5 x 2.5 mm, is taking place in Hobart, Tasmania, and represents the first time such a large number of insects have been used for environmental monitoring.
The bees are refrigerated for a short period, which puts them into a rest state long enough for the tiny sensors to be secured to their backs with an adhesive.
The RFID tags collect data when bees pass certain checkpoints, and the information is sent remotely to a central location where researchers will use the signals from the 5,000 sensors to build a comprehensive three dimensional model and map how the insects move through the landscape.
“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,” says Dr Paulo de Souza, who is leading the “swarm sensing” project being sponsored by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.
“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.”
Understanding bee behavior will give farmers and fruit growers improved management knowledge enabling them to increase the benefit received from this pollination service. It will also help them to gain and maintain access to markets through improving the way insects are monitored.
CSIRO is working with the University of Tasmania, Tasmanian Beekeepers Association, local beekeepers in Hobart and fruit growers to trial the technology. Many growers rely on wild bees or the beekeepers to provide them with pollinators so they can improve their crops each year.
“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,” says Dr de Souza.
The next stage of the project is to reduce the size of the sensors to only 1mm so they can be attached to smaller insects such as mosquitoes and fruit flies.