TECH

Bees With Tiny Backpack Sensors Are Mapping Their Own Destruction

15/01/2014 14:37 GMT | Updated 25/01/2014 21:01 GMT

More than 5,000 honey bees in Australia have been attached to minute RFID sensors to try and track their movements - and find out how to prevent their doom.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) said that it wants to learn why bee colonies in Australia appear not be be affected - yet - by the 'colony collapse disorder' which is affecting most of the rest of the world.

Using the 2.5mm-long sensors, researchers will be able to follow how the bees move, how their colonies develop and what conditions are most conducive to producing the best crops.

"Honey bees play a vital role in the landscape through a free pollination service for agriculture, which various crops rely on to increase yields. A recent CSIRO study showed bee pollination in Faba beans can lead to a productivity increase of 17 per cent," CSIRO science leader Dr Paulo de Souza, who leads the swarm sensing project, said.

"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. Thankfully, Australia is currently free from both of those threats."

csiro

To affix the sensors researchers had to first freeze the insects in a refrigerator - putting them to sleep before using glue to attach the small sensors with tweezers. Some of the bees needed to be shaved before the sensors could be attached.

CSIRO explained that while Australia bees are unaffected so far by CCP, farmers are still worried about declining pollination.

Some Tasmanian apple growers say their production fell about 30 per cent last year because of problems with bee numbers, Dr de Souza said.

And no - no bees were harmed in the making of this study. "non-destructive process and the sensors appear to have no impact on the bee's ability to fly and carry out its normal duties" Dr de Souza said.

Hat-tip Vice.