Virtual honey bee colony could measure effects of pesticides

SCIENTISTS have created a computer model which simulates a honey bee colony in order to see how bees are affected by environmental changes such as pesticide use.

The BEEHAVE model, published today (Tuesday, March 4) in the Journal of Applied Ecology, was created to investigate the losses of honey bee colonies and to identify the best course of action for improving bee health.

It simulates the life of a colony including the queen’s egg laying, brood care by nurse bees and foragers collecting nectar and pollen in a realistic landscape.

The project, which was funded by an Industrial Partnership Award from BBSRC with co-funding from Syngenta, will also investigate the use of pesticides on bee populations.

When the model simulates a loss of foragers, results show that colonies may be more resilient to this forager loss than previously thought in the short-term, but effects may accumulate over years, especially when colonies are also limited by food supply.

It shows how putting food sources close to the hive will make a difference to the colony. Research shows a lack of forage over extended periods leaves bees vulnerable to other environmental factors.

Professor Juliet Osborne from the Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter (and previously at Rothamsted Research) who led the research, said: “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.  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”.

BEEHAVE

The model allows researchers, beekeepers and anyone interested in bees, to predict colony development and honey production under different environmental conditions and beekeeping practices.

To build the simulation, the scientists brought together existing honeybee research and data to develop a new model that integrated processes occurring inside and outside the hive.

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