The miniature trackers were developed by Dr. Mark O’Neill from tech firm Tumbling Dice, and are so light that they can be superglued to the back of the bumblebees. The technology is currently being tested at The Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew in the United Kingdom, and may allow scientists to finally work out why bee populations are in such dramatic decline, writes Jenna Iacurci for Nature World News.
New tracking possibilities
“These tags are a big step forward in radio technology and no-one has a decent medium to long range tag yet that is suitable for flying on small insects. This new technology will open up possibilities for scientists to track bees in the landscape,” said Dr. Sarah Barlow, lead scientist on the project. “This piece of the puzzle, of bee behavior, is absolutely vital if we are to understand better why our bees are struggling and how we can reverse their decline.”
10% of Europe’s 2,000 species of bees are threatened with extinction, while 2 of Britain’s 26 bumblebee species are in rapid decline due to rural development and the loss of wild meadows, among other factors. Bumblebees are a vital part of the food chain because they pollinate crops, and their decline is worrying.
Studying declining bumblebee populations
These tiny tracking backpacks are expected to give scientists insight on the reasons behind the declining populations by monitoring their movements. In order to attach the device to the bee, researchers have to stun them first by chilling them for around 10 minutes. The tracker does not affect the bumblebees’ ability to fly, and have so far only been attached to worker bees, which do not mate.
British bumblebees have now joined Australian bees in wearing sensors, with scientists eager to better understand their behavioral patterns. 5,000 honeybees in Australia were fitted with microchip sensors, and then released in the wild, so researchers could study their movements as part of an environmental monitoring experiment.
The study of the everyday life of a bumblebee is expected to give researchers a better idea of what is causing populations to decline around the world.