Can 'citizen science' help save the disappearing bees?
In this photo taken Friday, Jan. 31, 2014, HoneyLove.org founder, and beekeeper Rob McFarland inspects his beehive, which he has kept on the roof of his Los Angeles house for the past three years. (AP / Damian Dovarganes)
Published Saturday, March 15, 2014 9:52AM EDT
A group of concerned ecologists, beekeepers, engineers and designers have come together to create hives that might help explain why honey bees are disappearing. And they're hoping that members of the public will take part too, by becoming "citizen scientists" and building hives of their own.
The team behind the Open Source Beehives project has created two types of hives they hope can provide some answers on what's causing the "Colony Collapse Disorder" affecting the world's honey bee population. The hive designs are open source, and will eventually be free for anyone to download and use.
Open Tech Collaborative, one of the two firms behind the project, is now developing a sensor which will eventually be installed in the hives.
The sensor will monitor the health of the bee colony and collect data as the colony grows. It will also alert the beekeeper of any extremes in temperature and humidity, as well as any detection of pesticides, according to a video describing the project.
The sensors will send geo-located information from individual hives to the Smart Citizen platform -- a database of crowd-sourced data collected from around the world. The team hopes that the collected data will help explain what's driving CCD.
The group launched an Indiegogo campaign this week to help raise funds to develop the sensor, and hopes to have an early prototype of it, designed for mass use, up and running by the end of the year.
Open Tech Collaborative co-founder Aaron Makaruk said the idea for the project stems from a desire to address large-scale global problems, that might otherwise seem too big for individuals to tackle.
"It can be a frustrating situation … because we worry about these global problems and wonder how we can get involved and do something about it," he told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.
"Now with these affordable open-source tools, everybody can get involved in 'citizen science' - which means that the average person can get involved in a scientific project, acquire data that research institutes can analyze, and then the hope is that we can influence policy."
The group would like to eventually partner with an academic research institute to analyze the collected data. But the data will be available to anyone who wants to use it, says Open Tech's Tristan Copley Smith.
"This data is totally open and accessible to anybody who wants to use it," he said. "Even if you're not some big well-funded scientific institute, if you're passionate about this issue you can still create your own insights based upon it."
The project is one of a number of similar initiatives that are using sensors to monitor and collect data from beehives.
The projects have been launched out of a growing concern over the impact of CCD. The disorder first started to gain attention in 2006, when beekeepers in the U.S. began reporting losses of about 30-39 per cent of their hives. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that winter colony losses from 2006-2011 averaged about 33 per cent per year.
Beekeepers in Canada and Europe have witnessed similar losses. Last year, the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists estimated that the average loss of honey bee colonies across Canada during the 2012-2013 winter season was about 28 per cent. This is approximately double the "acceptable level" that beekeepers typically experience during the winter, the association said in a statement.
Bees and pollinators play an important role in food production. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that, of the 100 crop species that provide 90 per cent of the world's food, 71 are pollinated by bees.
While the dramatic disappearance of the bees has been associated with a number of different factors including pesticide use, farming practices and parasites, the USDA has said that no single factor or combination of factors has been proven to be the cause of CCD.