New Computer Model Could Preserve The World's Bee Colonies
March 4, 2014

New Computer Model Could Preserve The World’s Bee Colonies

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Scientists have created a new computer model to help understand the environmental effects of a honeybee colony.

The BEEHAVE model published in the Journal of Applied Ecology was created to investigate the losses of honeybee colonies that have been reported recently and to identify the best way to try and combat the losses.

[ Watch the Video: BEEHAVE Model ]

"It is a real challenge to understand which factors are most important in affecting bee colony growth and survival. This is the first opportunity to simulate the effects of several factors together, such as food availability, mite infestation and disease, over realistic time scales,” Prof Juliet Osborne, of the Environment and Sustainability Institute, said in a statement.

BEEHAVE allows researchers to predict colony development and honey production under different environmental conditions. The scientists used existing honeybee research and data to develop a new model that integrated processes occurring inside and outside the hive.

The first results of the model found that colonies infested with a common parasite can be much more vulnerable to food shortages. However, this model also reveals that effects build up over subsequent years leading to eventual failure of the colony.

The scientists say that BEEHAVE can be used to investigate potential consequences of pesticide applications. According to the group, the model can be used to simulate the impact of increased loss of foragers. Results show that colonies may be more resilient to this forager loss than previously thought in the short term.

Simulations have shown that good food sources close to the hive will make a difference to the colony. These simulations have also revealed that lack of forage over extended periods of time leaves bees vulnerable to other environmental factors.

"The use of this model by a variety of stakeholders could stimulate the development of new approaches to bee management, pesticide risk assessment and landscape management. The advantage is that each of these factors can be tested in a virtual environment in different combinations, before testing in the field,” Osborne said in a statement. “Whilst BEEHAVE is mathematically very complex, it has a user-friendly interface and a fully accessible manual so it can be explored and used by a large variety of interested people."

Prof Melanie Welham, BBSRC's Science Director, talked about how this new model could help play a vital role in saving honeybees.

"Healthy bees are vital to our food supply as they pollinate many important crops,” Welham said in a statement. "This virtual hive is an important new research tool to help us understand how changes to the environment impact on bee health."

Dr Pernille Thorbek, said BEEHAVE is an important tool that can simulate and explore interactions between stressors and can improve understanding and focus experimental work.

"BEEHAVE can help explore which changes to agricultural landscapes and beekeeping practices will benefit honeybees the most,” Thorbek, who works for Syngenta, the company that co-funded the project, said in a statement.