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New technology learns about bee colony collapse disorder

Catherine Stewart

Catherine Stewart

August 28, 2015
Bee with tracking device. Photo CSIRO

Bee pollinating fruit crop ©CSIRO

Can CSIRO’s new bee tiny trackers solve the mystery of Bee Colony Collapse Disorder?

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is when all the bees in a hive suddenly die and/or disappear. It is one of the biggest threats to farming in the world. Bees pollinate many of our fruit crops, but are also essential for beef and dairy production, as they pollinate fields of lucerne and clover.

But scientists around the world are still unable to solve the mystery of CCD. A range of possible factors have been identified, from the predatory varroa mite (fortunately not yet in Australia), to pesticides, disease, water contamination, and extreme weather conditions. However a new tiny tracking advice that adheres to a bee’s back for its life, developed in Australia by CSIRO scientists, may be the key to finding answers.

Bee drone with tiny tracking device Photo CSIRO

Bee drone with tiny tracking device Photo ©CSIRO

The device, a bit like a tiny barcode only 2.5mm (1/8th inch) wide is being fixed to thousands of bees around the world as part of the Global Initiative for Honey Bee Health. Its weight on a bee is similar to a human carrying a lightweight backpack.

Tracking occurs a bit like that used in a car’s e-tag or an aircraft’s black box flight recorder. Scientists can monitor each bee’s daily movements and analyse how they are interacting with potential stress factors as they go about their essential pollinating business. Professor Paulo de Souza, CSIRO Science Leader, says:

“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. We’re also investigating what key factors, or combination of factors, lead to bee deaths on mass.”

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