Biologists design method to monitor global bee decline

December 19, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 19 - A global network of people monitoring bee populations may form an early warning system alerting scientists to dangers threatening the world's food system and economies.

"My goal is to give agencies all around the world an effective way to monitor bees," said San Francisco State University Professor of Biology Gretchen LeBuhn, lead author of a United Nations-sponsored study. "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."

In an article published online Dec. 12 in the journal Conservation Biology, LeBuhn and her co-authors outlined a simple and cost-effective method for enacting a monitoring system. The study found that counting and identifying bees regularly for five years at about 200 locations would produce data accurate enough to detect two to five percent annual declines in bee populations. The program is estimated to cost $2 million and include international sampling sites, although it could be scaled to fit different regional monitoring needs.

"The estimated cost of sustaining an international monitoring program is a relatively small investment compared to the potential economic cost of severe pollinator losses," the study said. Thirty-five percent of the global food supply depends on bees and other pollinators, including crops worth nearly $200 billion each year, according to LeBuhn.

"A monitoring program should be simple, repeatable, inexpensive, and, most importantly, have the ability to quickly detect declines if they are occurring," the study said.

The proposed system relies on paid workers around the globe to count and identify bees using simple "pan traps," in which bees are attracted to a brightly-colored pan filled with liquid. To determine scalable sampling techniques, costs and time scales for completing the work, the researchers designed simulations using data from eleven previously published multi-year studies.

The research was funded by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and the monitoring program has already been used in Brazil, Ghana, India, Kenya, Nepal, Pakistan and South Africa, with support from the Global Environment Facility and United Nations Environment Programme. LeBuhn said the long-term goal for the project is to establish a network of monitoring stations to provide data for a global analysis.

"We hope to eventually centralize some of the data collection so that people who are counting bees regionally can contribute to a larger data set."

LeBuhn is also known for organizing the annual "Great Sunflower Project," in which 100,000 citizen scientists across North America volunteer to count bee populations in their own backyards. The project, now in its fifth year, recently found low numbers of bees in urban areas across America, adding weight to the theory that habitat loss is one of the primary reasons for sharp population declines.
-end-
SF State is the only master's-level public university serving the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin. The University enrolls nearly 30,000 students each year and offers nationally acclaimed programs in a range of fields -- from creative writing, cinema and biology to history, broadcast and electronic communication arts, theatre arts and ethnic studies. The University's more than 212,000 graduates have contributed to the economic, cultural and civic fabric of San Francisco and beyond.

San Francisco State University

Related Bees Articles from Brightsurf:

Two pesticides approved for use in US harmful to bees
A previously banned insecticide, which was approved for agricultural use last year in the United States, is harmful for bees and other beneficial insects that are crucial for agriculture, and a second pesticide in widespread use also harms these insects.

Native bees also facing novel pandemic
There is growing evidence that another ''pandemic'' has been infecting bees around the world for the past two decades, and is spreading: a fungal pathogen known as Nosema.

Bees grooming each other can boost colony immunity
Honeybees that specialise in grooming their nestmates (allogroomers) to ward off pests play a central role in the colony, finds a new UCL and University of Florence study published in Scientific Reports.

Microalgae food for honey bees
A microscopic algae ('microalgae') could provide a complete and sustainably sourced supplemental diet to boost the robustness of managed honey bees, according to research just published by Agricultural Research Service scientists in the journal Apidologie.

Bees point to new evolutionary answers
Evolutionary biology aims to explain how new species arise and evolve to occupy myriad niches -- but it is not a singular or simplistic story.

Quantifying objects: bees recognize that six is more than four
A new study at the University of Cologne proves that insects can perform basic numerical cognition tasks.

Prescribed burns benefit bees
Freshly burned longleaf pine forests have more than double the total number of bees and bee species than similar forests that have not burned in over 50 years, according to new research from North Carolina State University.

Insecticides are becoming more toxic to honey bees
Researchers discover that neonicotinoid seed treatments are driving a dramatic increase in insecticide toxicity in U.S. agricultural landscapes, despite evidence that these treatments have little to no benefit in many crops.

Neonicotinoids: Despite EU moratorium, bees still at risk
Since 2013, a European Union moratorium has restricted the application of three neonicotinoids to crops that attract bees because of the harmful effects they are deemed to have on these insects.

Bees 'surf' atop water
Ever see a bee stuck in a pool? He's surfing to escape.

Read More: Bees News and Bees Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.