Studies say reductions in bee populations endanger 75% of farm crops and the pollination of flowers on more than 85% of flowering plants worldwide. Biological science professor Candace Galen says University of Missouri researchers have created an inexpensive way to eavesdrop on bees to try and boost food production.

University of Missouri creates way to help save bees, increase food production

For more than 100 years, scientists have used sound to monitor birds, bats, frogs and insects. The university has expanded that same concept to observe pollinating insects.

Microphones are attached to storage containers that collect sounds and gather information on the close bee population.

“If you’re a parent and you are trying to figure out how your kid is doing, the number one thing you first need to do if you have a teenager like I do, is you need to figure out where they are and who they are with,” chuckles Galen. “That’s the same for our bees.”

Using the data, researchers have developed algorithms that identify and quantify the number of bee buzzes in each location and compare that information to visual surveys the team make in the field. In almost every instance, the acoustic surveys have picked up more buzzing bees.

Using the algorithms developed in this study, the team is developing a smartphone app that could record buzz activity as well as photograph the bees. Future studies could determine whether bees detect competitors by sound and whether flowers have chemical responses to bee buzzes, says Galen.

Photos courtesy of University of Missouri

Missouri has nearly 300 different kinds of native bees, according to Galen.

“Some of them are doing pretty well and some of them are doing not so well.”
“Here in Missouri, some of my favorite crops, like apples, berries, squash and tomatoes require bee pollination,” says Galen.

The study, published today in PLOS ONE, shows how farmers could use the technology.