Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Could Adorable Little Bee Backpacks Save the Honeybees?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Could Adorable Little Bee Backpacks Save the Honeybees?

Article excerpt

Microsensors may be the key to solving the mystery behind the collapse of honeybee colonies.

Australian researchers announced Tuesday that they have attached tiny, top-of-the-line trackers to about 10,000 healthy honeybees in an effort to find out what is driving a decline in the pollinators' global population. The experiment, supported by an international group of scientists, farmers, beekeepers, and tech companies, is the latest to use tracking and tagging technology to study animal behavior and responses to stimuli.

"The tiny technology allows researchers to analyze 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," said Dr. Paulo de Souza, science leader at Australian science agency CSIRO, which helped develop the technology, in a statement. "We're also investigating what key factors, or combination of factors, lead to bee deaths en masse."

The tiny sensors, like the electronic tags that monitor cars on toll roads, send data back to receivers - about half the size of a credit card - that are placed in honeybee hives, the BBC reported. The trackers, attached to the pollinators' backs, weigh about a third of what a bee can carry.

The bee backpacks are the latest innovation in a series of high- tech tracking devices and sensors designed to both study and protect declining animal populations. Electronic tagging and tracking tools, for instance, now provide marine biologists with more detailed data than ever on the migration patterns of sharks and other aquatic species, and help identify the marine habitats that need special protection, according to National Geographic.

UK-based conservation company Protect recently developed a monitoring and alarm system that alerts authorities when a poach is taking place, using a camera embedded painlessly into a rhino's horn. And researchers at the University of Minnesota employed GPS collars and cardiac "biologgers" - devices that track heart rates - to measure grizzly bears' stress levels in the presence of drones.

Similar technology is also being used to study everything from the migratory patterns of birds, to the amounts of energy big cats expend when hunting prey, to the social behavior of monkeys, according to a study published in June in the journal Science.

"Multi-sensor tracking tags are not only changing what we know about where animals go, they are also transforming what we know about how animals interact," the study found. …

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