Ways Forward: Precision Beekeeping
Ten years ago, thousands of beekeepers in America woke to find their beehives empty. Since then, the same mass exodus of worker bees from their homes has occurred across the world. This bizarre and concerning phenomenon is now known as colony collapse disorder (CCD), and involves most of the worker bees in a colony disappearing and leaving behind a queen, food and some nurse bees to care for any remaining young. Although this issue has had other names prior to 2006 (disappearing disease, spring dwindle, May disease…), it was renamed CCD on this occasion when a drastic rise in disappearances became evident, not just in America, but across Europe. More recently, in New Zealand, surveys showed winter losses of 10.7%; in Australia, a countrywide survey of the state of bee colonies has not happened so we are left in the dark with how our bees are actually faring.
So what research has been done into this alarming phenomenon? Technologies are assisting beekeepers understand what happens inside their hives without opening them up and disturbing the colony. This is especially important in places like Europe, where woodland habitats that bees rely on no longer exist, making beekeepers their only hope. In order for apiculture professionals to try to understand the mystifying factors behind CCD, new measures have been developed to monitor but not intrude.
These methods come under the umbrella of Precision Beekeeping, or Precision Apiculture. This is a bee management strategy that relies on monitoring individual bee colonies or hives in order to increase understanding, and, thus, productivity. This process can be seen as split into three phases: data collection, data analysis and application. Measurements from the bee habitat are taken using different digital technologies; the data is then recorded and analysed using expert knowledge; and decisions are then made in order to increase performance and colony success rates. In short, the main objective of precision beekeeping is to implement real-time and online tools that continuously monitor bee colonies throughout their life stages using non-intrusive technologies.
These technologies include:manual temperature measurements, measurements by different loggers and iButtons; wired sensor networks; wireless sensor networks; and infrared imaging. As researchers from the University of Cordoba in Spain explain, these technologies enable keepers to monitor a multitude of different parameters such as humidity and temperature levels inside the hive, weight, sounds and gases produced. Beekeepers can, therefore, use these new technologies without causing stress to the animals; the whole time, gaining the important information they need to make their colonies happier and healthier.