Amidst growing concern about global bee populations, one graduate student’s monitoring technology is providing valuable information about hive communication. Oldooz Pooyfar developed this beehive monitoring system while attending Simon Fraser University’s School of Mechatronics Systems Engineering, and currently monitors over 20,000 honeybees to study health and communication trends.
Global decline of bee populations began in the late 1990’s, especially in honeybees, and since then beekeepers like Pooyfar have been trying to figure out ways to predict hive health and prevent what is known as “Colony Collapse Disorder.” When this occurs, worker bees vanish from the colony and abandon the queen and young bees. This is disastrous for the colony and when it occurs on a larger scale, it can be disastrous for the environment. Bees are vital to their ecosystems and are responsible for naturally pollinating crops and other plants.
The technology Pooyfar developed relies on activity from within the hive – a monitoring device is placed against the wall of the hive to detect sounds and vibrations – and gathers data on other factors, such as temperature and humidity. With this information, beekeepers can track changes through unusual activity within the hive or its environment to help predict future problems. It’s crucial for beekeepers and biologists to better understand bee activity, as the honeybees have had the most dramatic decline in bee populations.
Though several devices currently exist to study the activity and communication patterns of colonies, many rely on studying pheromones or methods that may disrupt the bees, which causes skewed data. As such, these devices do not provide the same level of detailed data as Pooyfar’s technology. She believes “that better understanding the daily patterns and conditions, using an artificial neural network in the hive, will help to improve bee colony management.” This monitoring technology is currently being used to study honeybee colonies in Cloverdale field as of this summer.
It may be an uphill battle to bring honeybee colonies back from the brink, but monitoring technology like Pooyfar’s is a positive step to understanding hive health and growth. If we can better predict threats to these bee populations, we can better understand how to save them.