Virtual bees help to unravel complex causes of colony decline
Professor Osborne added: "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".
The project was funded by an Industrial Partnership Award from BBSRC with co-funding from Syngenta. It involved collaboration between ecologists and modellers from Exeter (Professor Osborne, Dr Becher and Dr Kennedy, who started the project at Rothamsted Research), Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ Leipzig (Professor Grimm and Ms Horn) and Syngenta (Dr P Thorbek).
Professor Melanie Welham, BBSRC's Science Director, said: "Healthy bees are vital to our food supply as they pollinate many important crops. This virtual hive is an important new research tool to help us understand how changes to the environment impact on bee health."
Pernille Thorbek, Ph.D., (Syngenta) adds: "Studying several stressors in multifactorial field trials is immensely complicated and difficult to do. BEEHAVE is an important new tool which can simulate and explore interactions between stressors and can improve understanding and focus experimental work."
"BEEHAVE can help explore which changes to agricultural landscapes and beekeeping practices will benefit honeybees the most."
Professor Osborne's research group studies the behaviour and ecology of bees and other pollinators. They started the project when based at Rothamsted Research and moved to the University of Exeter in 2012. They work with beekeepers, conservation organisations, farmers and industry with the aim of conserving bee populations, and protecting and promoting wild flower and crop pollination.
David Aston, Ph.D., president of the British Beekeepers Association, commented that: "This model will be an important tool in helping us to understand the interactions and impact of the diverse stressors to which honey bee colonies can be exposed.
"Not only will it be invaluable for scientific research purposes but it will also be an important training tool to help beekeepers better understand the impacts of their husbandry and other factors on the health and survival of their colonies.
"The model demonstrates the significance of varroa and associated viruses in honey bee health and underlines the crucial need for beekeepers to manage and control the varroa in their colonies."
BEEHAVE is freely available at www.beehave-model.net
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