25 August 2015

CSIRO calls on researchers worldwide to join forces to save honey bees

Honey bees are essential for the pollination of about one third of the food we eat - including fruit, vegetables, oils, seeds and nuts - yet their health and ability to pollinate our crops is under serious threat.

Global Initiative for Honey bee Health

Show transcript

[Music plays, CSIRO logo appears on bottom right hand corner of screen, and text appears:  Global Initiative for Honey bee Health]

[Image changes to show a honey bee hive]

Narrator:  Honey bees are the great unsung hero of the Australian landscape.  While they busily go about their business of foraging, collecting pollen and producing honey, they are also helping to produce the foods we eat every day.

[Image changes to show an apple tree]

In fact 70 per cent of what goes into our mouths relies on pollination, a service these winged insects provide for free.

[Image changes to show honey bees inside a hive]

[Image changes to show Peter Norris and text appears on screen:  Peter Norris, Beekeeper]

Peter Norris:  Bees are just so important to our wellbeing.  Things that are immediately obvious are pome fruits and stone fruits, and berries and things like that.  But things that aren’t so immediately obvious are beef, because they need Lucerne and clover and all those crops need pollinating with bees as well.

[Image changes as camera pans to show cattle in a field next to an apple orchard]

[Image changes back to show honey bees in a hive]

Narrator:  Sadly, honey bee populations around the world have crashed, and not enough is known about why.

[Image changes to show various images of beekeepers tending to beehives in a field]

Potential threats include varroa mite and other pathogens, air and water contamination, pesticides, extreme weather, hive management, or a combination of these and other factors.

[Image changes to show Doctor Saul Cunningham and text appears on screen:  Dr Saul Cunningham, Pollination Researcher]

Dr Saul Cunningham:  When bees are out there on our crops they’re exposed to different agricultural chemicals, different kinds of food, the pollen and the nectar that they collect on crops, and those things will affect whether or not a bee is going to make it back to the hive, and whether or not the hive is going to grow or shrink.

[Image changes to show beehives in a field]

[Image changes back to show honey bees in a hive]

[Image changes back to Doctor Saul Cunningham]

Australia is actually special in a few important ways.  One of the most significant is that we don’t have the varroa mite, that’s one of the biggest bee diseases around the world.

[Image changes to show various images of beekeepers tending to beehives in a field]

And what’s happened in America, and more recently in New Zealand, is the varroa mite’s arrived and its spread very rapidly, and had a huge impact particularly on feral bees, and has a pretty big impact also on the managed bees.

[Image changes back to Doctor Saul Cunningham]

Hopefully we can learn things here that we can export around the world to help people everywhere manage their bees better.

[Image changes back to show honey bees in a hive]

Narrator:  Currently Australia is free from colony collapse disorder and varroa mite.

[Image changes to show various images of beekeepers tending to beehives in a field]

But the risk of them arriving is very real.

[Image changes back to Peter Norris]

Peter Norris:  Oh, it’d be catastrophic, absolutely catastrophic.  I was in the U.K. when varroa arrived there, and I had 150 hives as a hobby, and I went down to 25 hives in the first year.  We lost 80% of the bees in the U.K. in the first year it was discovered.

[Image changes to show an apple orchard]

[Image changes to show an apple tree]

[Image changes to show John Evans working with the apple trees]

Narrator:  A new CSIRO led research program is looking into how to maintain honey bee productivity on farms in the event of a bee population crash, as well as learn about what is driving the global collapse in wild populations.

[Image changes to show a man conducting an experiment in a lab]

[Image changes to show a close-up image of a tag attached to the back of a bee]

And to do that requires technology on a miniature scale.

[Image changes to show a five cent piece and a tag]

These tags measure just a quarter of a centimetre in length, and are being fitted to the backs of bees to monitor their movement.

[Image changes to show a close-up image of a tag attached to the back of a bee]

[Image changes to show a man conducting and experiment with a bee in a lab]

The sensors act like an eTag on your car and record when the insect passes a data logger.

[Image changes to show data being recorded on an electronic device]

[Image changes to show a man working at a computer]

That information is sent remotely to a central location where researchers can then model the insect’s behaviour and how it interacts with its environment.

[Image changes to show a computerised 3D image on a computer screen]

[Image changes to show John Evans and text appears on screen:  John Evans, Apple grower]

John Evans:  Well without bees we don’t have apples, and we’ve seen in the footage before where... that bees have not been active because of bad weather and there’s no apples there.  So the bee is very important.

[Image changes back to Doctor Saul Cunningham]

Dr Saul Cunningham:  This is really a global initiative we’re talking about here, and by that we mean we’ve got some great researchers in Australia, but we’ve also got collaborators around the world.

[Image changes to show Professor Paulo de Souza and text appears on screen:  Prof Paulo de Souza, Science Leader, Micro-sensing Technologies]

[Image changes to show various close-up images of a tag attached to the back of a bee]

 [Image changes to show a man working at a computer]

[Image changes to show various images of beekeepers tending to beehives in a field]

[Image changes back to Professor Paulo de Souza]

Prof Paulo de Souza:  The unique approach of the Global Initiative is to provide the same technology, the same experimental protocols in a very collaborative approach, working from microchips up to the Cloud, where the data then is being shared and analysed by scientists around the world to make discoveries and understand the impact that bees are suffering from different stresses.

[Image changes back to Doctor Saul Cunningham]

Dr Saul Cunningham:  We really believe that if it can bring those scientists together with beekeepers and industry, we could have some really important outcomes.

[Image changes back to Professor Paulo de Souza]

Prof Paulo de Souza:  So we hope to solve one of the largest problems we have today in the world.

[Image changes to show various images of beekeepers tending to beehives in a field]

[Image changes back to Professor Paulo de Souza]

It is about the threat to food, but many other aspects on the landscape, and the role that pollinators have in the landscape.

[Image changes back to Doctor Saul Cunningham]

Dr Saul Cunningham:  The big picture is we need a strong beekeeping industry, and we need successful farmers, and together they can help produce the food we need now and into the future.

[CSIRO logo appears with text: Big ideas start here www.csiro.au]

Hide transcript

To help tackle this worldwide problem, CSIRO is leading the Global Initiative for Honey bee Health - an international collaboration of researchers, beekeepers, farmers, industry, and technology companies aimed at better understanding what is harming bees and finding solutions to help secure crop pollination.

Integral to the research effort are micro-sensors that are manually fitted to bees which work like a vehicle e-tag system, with strategically placed receivers identifying individual bees and recording their movements in and around bee hives.

“The tiny technology allows researchers to analyse the effects of stress factors including disease, pesticides, air pollution, water contamination, diet and extreme weather on the movements of bees and their ability to pollinate,” Professor Paulo de Souza, CSIRO Science Leader, said.

“We’re also investigating what key factors, or combination of factors, lead to bee deaths on mass.”

“The sensors, working in partnership with Intel technology, operate in a similar way to an aeroplane’s black box flight recorder in that they provide us with vital information about what stress factors impact bee health.”

As bees are normally predictable creatures, changes in their behaviour indicate stress factors or a change in their environment. By modelling bee movement researchers can help identify the causes of stress in order to protect the important pollinating work honey bees do and identify any disease or other biosecurity risks.

CSIRO Pollination Researcher, Dr Saul Cunningham, said Australia has been very lucky, so far, to be the only country that doesn’t have the devastating Varroa mite, which has wiped out bee colonies overseas at an alarming rate.

“This puts Australia in a good position to act as a control group for research on this major issue that could one day become our problem too,” Dr Cunningham said.

However, Australia’s horticulture and agricultural industries are particularly vulnerable to declines in honey bee populations as they rely on un-managed feral honey bees for much of their crop pollination.

“Our managed bee pollination services would be hard-pressed to meet the extra demand required to replace the key role un-managed honey bees play so, the outcome would likely be a drop in crop production and a rise in prices of popular food staples like fruit and veggies,” Dr Cunningham said.

The international initiative is being mounted to assist in uniting the efforts of those working in the critical area of protecting bee health.

“The time is now for a tightly-focused, well-coordinated national and international effort, using the same shared technology and research protocols, to help solve the problems facing honey bees worldwide before it is too late,” Professor de Souza said.

Additional resources

Images

  • Honey bee feeds on a flower. Download image

    The Global Initiative for Honey Bee Health (GIHH) is an international alliance of researchers led by the CSIRO. In a world first, the GIHH will seek to address threats to honey bee health through a world-wide data collection exercise. © CSIRO

  • Honey bee with senor, feeding on a flower. Download image

    The health of honey bees is under increasing pressure on a global scale. The impact of losing the free pollination services provided by feral honey bees will be farmers paying beekeepers to bring bees in to pollinate their crops, resulting in price hikes in everything from cucumbers and oranges, to cashews and onions. © CSIRO

  • Honey bees with sensor Download image

    Honey bees are essential for food production, providing pollination services for around one third of the food we eat. © CSIRO

  • A sensor is placed on the back of a drone bee. Download image

    A sensor is placed onto the back of a drone bee. Data gathered by the Global Initiative for Honey bee Health (GIHH) will provide valuable information to scientists, beekeepers, primary producers, industry groups and governments to achieve impacts around improved biosecurity measures, crop pollination, bee health, food production and better strategies on sustainable farming practices, food security and impacts on ecosystems in general. © CSIRO

  • Dr Paulo de Souza and bees Download image

    Dr Paulo de Souza and bees © CSIRO

  •  Dr Gary Fitt Download image

    Dr Gary Fitt © CSIRO, Frank Filippi

  • Scientists check bee hives Download image

    Scientists check bee hives in Tasmania’s Huon Valley. © CSIRO

  • Dr Saul Cunningham talks about the project Download image

    Dr Saul Cunningham © CSIRO

  • Dr Saul Cunningham inspects a flower Download image

    Dr Saul Cunningham © CSIRO

  • Dr Saul Cunningham crouching Download image

    Dr Saul Cunningham. The Global Initiative for Honey Bee Health (GIHH) aims to provide a coordinated effort to better understand the diverse stresses impacting bee health. © CSIRO

  • Varroa mite, latched onto a bee pupae. Download image

    The Varroa mite, seen here latched onto a bee pupae, is the most significant pest to honeybees around the world. © CSIRO

B-roll videos

Audio

Background information

The GIHH proudly partners with the following industry members - Intel, Hitachi Chemical, Nissin Corporation and Vale, and brings together scientists from Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Mexico and the United Kingdom.

Expand background information

NEWS RELEASE CONTACT

  • Mrs Cassandra Leigh

    Communication Advisor

    • Phone:
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      • +61 414 868 409 (Mobile)
  • Ms Ali Green

    Communication Advisor · Communication

    • Phone:
      • +61 3 9545 8098
      • +61 406 146 523 (Mobile)

    Email: Ali.Green@csiro.au

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