How to measure the global bee decline

December 21, 2012



By Philippa Warr


Biologists searching for an effective way to monitor the world’s bee population may have found their answer in simple pan traps.


Changes to global bee populations have been of particular concern recently due to the rise of colony collapse disorder — a phenomenon where worker bees disappear from hives. With around 35 percent of the world’s food supply (around $200 billion-worth) dependent on pollinators like bees, decreases in their number could lead to significant problems with human food crops.


“My goal is to give agencies all around the world an effective way to monitor bees,” said the study’s lead author Gretchen LeBuhn, a biology professor at San Francisco State University. “Biologists have talked a lot about how bee populations are declining, but I don’t think we actually have good data that acts as an early warning signal for possible problems with our food system.”


The traps consist of a brightly coloured pan filled with liquid — usually soapy water to break down surface tension — which paid workers would investigate to count and identify any bees.


While it might feel slightly counterintuitive to monitor the decline of bee populations using a trapping system which kills them, LeBuhn predicts the payoff would be a cheap and scalable way of quickly and accurately detecting declines in bee numbers.


“The estimated cost of sustaining an international monitoring program is a relatively small investment compared to the potential economic cost of severe pollinator losses.”

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