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Smartphones Could Help Prevent Bee Hive Collapses

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It may be possible to use smartphones to monitor the activity of bees in their hives, claims a study by researchers at the UK's Nottingham Trent University. By using the accelerometers built into many smartphones, they can "listen" to the vibrations of the hive and detect the tell tale signs that the old Queen is about to leave the hive and set up a new home taking typically half the bees with her.

Over recent years the world's populations of honey bees have been in decline for reasons that are yet to be fully understood. Disease, bad weather and poor nutrition are all suspected causes, whilst in the USA a phenomenon now known as colony collapse disorder (CCD) has led to the loss of billions of bees. One major factor known to make the situation worse is a hive's decision to swarm.

It's thought that up to 90% of a modern day hive colony will die after abandoning a hive in search of a new nest location.

If bee keepers can be alerted to this behaviour, they can set up a convenient new home for the bees nearby and encourage them to move there rather than swarming away.

The advantage of using the vibration detector in the smartphone is that the processing software doesn't have to filter out external noises that could be picked up by listening to the hive - the traditional method - and the phone can then send an alert to the beekeeper via traditional SMS.

These signals were found to be occurring well in advance of a swarm happening, and their discovery has the potential to dramatically improve beekeeper's abilities to prevent a swarm taking place and consequently the significant loss of the bee colony.

Dr Martin Bencsik from Nottingham Trent University's School of Science and Technology, said: "The data we have gathered from our investigations is absolutely fascinating. The application of these devices, and the method we have developed for deciphering the information that they gather could provide a key to slowing the dramatic rate of decline in honey bee populations across the world."

On the web: ScienceDirect

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