Picture This: Bees With GPS Backpacks

bee_gps_trackingYou know all of the wonderful uses for GPS and tracking? Stuff like keeping your kids and elderly relatives safe; finding the nearest gas station when traveling; helping keep fleet costs to a minimum; ensuring your prized possessions aren’t stolen; and even simple directions to an unknown location?

Well, researchers at Oregon State University want to use GPS for something you probably didn’t even think was possible: tracking bumblebees. That’s right, bees.

To do this, they need to redesign the GPS tracking device altogether, making it miniscule enough to fit on bees’ backs. Not an easy feat (but kind of a cute image!).

On A Mission

Although there are already compact GPS trackers out there (used to track fish and birds), the scale required to get a tracker with GPS on a bee’s back is incredibly miniscule. That won’t stop OSU scientists, led by professor of entomology Sujaya Rao.

Rao stressed the importance of tracking the local bee population, pointing out that the worldwide bumblebee population is decreasing. If the bee were to become extinct, it would be disastrous. Bees are essential to the agriculture, and losing them would have more of an impact than most people think.

The Pesticide Problem

One of the reasons why the bee population is decreasing has to do with pesticides. A study published in the March 2012 issue of the journal ‘Science’ points to pesticides as being the main factor responsible for bee population reduction.

French researchers led one of the studies, hypothesizing that chemicals in pesticides confuse bee brains. This leads to confusion when trying to return to the hive, often resulting in death.

British researchers conducted the second study, which indicates that pesticides decrease the amount of food a bumblebee brings back to the hive, which means there isn’t enough for the production of new queen bees. Both scenarios mean a decrease in the bee population, and a big problem for us humans.

Development Is An Issue Too

Another reason why bee populations are declining is land development. Less flowers and plants exist thanks to overcrowding. In addition, the flowers and plants that do exist are more susceptible to things like viruses, fungi, mites, and other pathogens. What can be done? For starters, tracking bees with GPS helps.

First Steps

Before the bee can be tracked with GPS, a tracker that is small enough needs to be designed. That devices is currently in development, though it’s not ready to roll just yet.

Once it is ready to go, researchers will attach the trackers the bees’ backs and study the information gathered. The hope is to find out how to increase bee population and hold numbers steady, no matter what happens in the immediate bee environment.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is footing the $500,000 project, which will take at least two years to begin (it takes this long to develop the tiny GPS trackers!). This is an exciting new venture, and the plight of every being rests on the backs of bees.

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