Researchers hope the buzzes from bees flying from flower to flower can predict seed production in flowers and bee activity. Source: University of MissouriResearchers hope the buzzes from bees flying from flower to flower can predict seed production in flowers and bee activity. Source: University of MissouriA dwindling bee population is threatening the pollination of flower in more than 85% of flowering plants and 75% of agricultural crop worldwide.

This widespread problem is the concern of many researchers and academia globally but part of the problem is tracking bees is tricky and costly.

In order to better understand why the population of bees is declining, researchers at the University of Missouri have developed an inexpensive acoustic listening system using data from small microphones in the field to monitor bees in flight.

“Causes of pollinator decline are complex and include diminishing flower resources, habitat loss, climate change, increased disease incidence and exposure to pesticides, so pinpointing the driving forces remains a challenge,” says Candace Galen, a professor of biological science at the University of Missouri. “For more than 100 years, scientists have used sonic vibrations to monitor birds, bats, frogs and insects. We wanted to test the potential for remote monitoring programs that use acoustics to track bee flight activities.”

How They Did It

The team was able to do this by analyzing the characteristic frequencies of bee buzzes in the lab. Then they placed small microphones attached to data storage devices in the field in three locations of the Pennsylvania Mountain, Colorado in order to estimate bumble bee activity.

The data collected helped to develop algorithms that identified and quantified the number of bee buzzes in each location and compared that data to sight surveys made in the field. In almost every instance, the acoustic surveys were more sensitive to picking up the bee buzzes.

“Eavesdropping on the acoustic signatures of bee flights tells the story of bee activity and pollination services,” Galen says. “Farmers may be able to use the exact methods to monitor pollination of their orchards and vegetable crops and head off pollination deficits. Finally, global 'citizen scientists' could get involved, monitoring bees in their backyards.”

Future studies involve whether the bees detect competitors by sound or whether flowers have chemical responses to bee buzzes.

The full research can be found in the journal PLOS ONE.

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