Wondering about state of the environment? Just eavesdrop on bees

Dancing bees.

Researchers have devised a simple way to monitor wide swaths of the landscape without breaking a sweat: by listening in on the “conversations” honeybees have with each other. The scientists’ analyses of honeybee waggle dances reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on May 22 suggest that costly measures to set aside agricultural lands and let the wildflowers grow can be very beneficial to bees.

“In the past two decades, the European Union has spent €41 billion on agri-environment schemes, which aim to improve the rural landscape health and are required for all EU-member states,” says Margaret Couvillon of the Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects at the University of Sussex. “However, there is little evidence evaluating these schemes. Our work uses a novel source of data — the honeybee, an organism that itself can benefit from a healthy rural landscape — to evaluate not only the environment, but also the schemes used to manage that environment.”

Couvillon and her colleagues, led by Francis Ratnieks, recorded and decoded the waggle dances of bees in three hives over a two-year period. Bees dance to tell their fellow bees where to find the good stuff: the best nectar and pollen. The angle of their dances conveys information about the direction of resources while the duration conveys distance. Researchers can measure those dance characteristics in a matter of minutes with a protractor and timer.

In all, the researchers “eavesdropped” on 5,484 dances to find that the best forage within the 94 km2 of mixed urban-rural landscape included in the study — as far as bees and, by extension, other insect pollinators are concerned — is a place called Castle Hill, which happened to be the only National Nature Reserve in the area. More broadly, High Level agri-environment schemes were the best places for bees.

Read the full story here.

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About jensera

Jennifer Harrington is a Toronto-based illustrator, writer and graphic designer. She illustrated the best-selling children’s book series 'A Moose in a Maple Tree,' which includes the titles 'A Moose in a Maple Tree,' 'The Night Before a Canadian Christmas' and 'Canadian Jingle Bells.' She is also the owner of JSH Graphics, a boutique graphic design agency that specializes in print and web advertising. With her latest project, Eco Books 4 Kids, Jennifer has partnered with illustrator Michael Arnott to create a series of ecologically-themed ebooks for children. Her next book, 'Spirit Bear,' is due for release in the Summer of 2013. Jennifer offers two different school presentations for her 'Moose in a Maple Tree' collection, an illustration demonstration and a Christmas concert series, which can be booked at www.amooseinamapletree.com. She will be taking bookings for school readings of 'Spirit Bear' beginning in October 2013.

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