Thursday 27 November 2014

Scientists glue sensors to 5,000 bees to study behaviour

Rhiannon Williams

Published 16/01/2014 | 21:37

Scientists in Tasmania shaved the backs of the sleeping bees before glueing on the 2.5mm sensors
Scientists in Tasmania shaved the backs of the sleeping bees before glueing on the 2.5mm sensors

The project aims to gain greater understanding into why bees behave the way they do and to study the effects of pesticides and fungicides on the bee population.

Scientists in Tasmania shaved the backs of the sleeping bees before glueing on the 2.5mm sensors, which are thin and light enough not to disrupt the bee's flight.

CSIRO science leader Paulo de Souza said the process of attaching the sensor is a delicate one, but does not harm the insects.

He said: "We take the bee into a cold place, usually to a fridge about five degrees Celsius, for five minutes and that is enough to have the bees sleeping.

We take them out again and attach it while they're sleeping. In five minutes they wake up again and they're ready to fly."

The sensors weigh about 5mg, which Dr de Souza claims is around 20 per cent of the weight in pollen and nectar bees are capable of carrying.

The researchers will be able to track the bees' regular flight path as they travel to pollinate before returning to their colony through the sensors communicating with a number of checkpoints.

The information is then sent remotely to a central location where researchers can use the signals from the 5 000 sensors to build a comprehensive three dimensional model and visualise how these insects move through the landscape.

The data will provide a better indication of the bees' preferred environment and travel patterns, giving farmers greater insight into how they can best design their fields in order to take advantage of pollination.

The research will also look at the impacts of agricultural pesticides on honey bees by monitoring insects that feed at sites with trace amounts of commonly used chemicals.

"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 scientists are hoping to reduce the size of the sensors to 1mm so they can be attached to mosquitoes and fruit flies in later experiments.

Telegraph.co.uk

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