Citizen Scientists Track Bee Health and Shed Light on Colony Collapse Disorder
By Maureen Wise
You've probably heard that bees—their honey, their awesome pollinating powers and their stingers—are on the decline. It's a global problem that affects more than just the little yellow and black buzzers; it can and will interrupt the way we produce food if it continues. Bees pollinate most of the crops farmers grow worldwide, so without them, we don't have food. Most scientists agree that pesticides, drought, habitat loss, pollution and other major environmental concerns are all contributing to colony collapse disorder. It's a big deal and there are a lot of people working to keep bees buzzing.
Colorado Top Bar hive
A new project has set out to help understand the issue in individual colonies and bring the problem to the people called Open Source Beehives. This multi-continent partnership between Open Tech Collaborative and Fab Lab Barcelona proposes public participation through easily made backyard hives in conjunction with software that will track hive health.
Individuals can be part of the solution—and the fun—by keeping bees themselves. To construct the hives, keepers don't need glue or screws, only a 4 foot by 8 foot piece of plywood and a CNC router. Those who aren't quite as tech savvy with computer controlled saws can buy a prefabricated kit. There are two models: the smaller Colorado Top Bar (pictured) and the multi-tiered Barcelona Warre. They are easily shipped due to their flat design and packaging.
These “smart hives" will be connected to Smart Citizen through a piece of hardware installed within the hives. Users can view data online as well as through a mobile app. Information such as CO levels, humidity, bee count, noise intensity and more will be sent via Wi-Fi. An upcoming feature will notify beekeepers when there is something amiss within their hive.
The partnership is an open source project, meant to be shared and improved upon through community. Web programmers can find the code for the monitoring software on GibHub, the world's largest code sharing site. Those with other talents and knowledge are also encouraged to help with the project. To contribute, visit Open Source Beehives' collaboration page.
The partnership is finding that many citizens want to participate. Tristan Copley Smith, co-founder and communications director of Open Source Beehives, said, "What we find very interesting is the difference between the public and the political appetite for action on the bee issue—and other ecological issues. Citizens understand the urgency, and are supporting our project, building hives, and helping us improve. Political actors on the other hand have yet to take any meaningful steps on the issue. Citizen science projects in general are giving the public avenues to participate in solving issues themselves, rather than sitting around waiting for solutions from the dysfunctional and corrupt bureaucracies that are failing to protect our planet." You can help by reminding your local government officials how important the issue of colony collapse disorder is and urging them to get involved.
Learn more about Open Source Beehives:
The project has already hosted a successful IndeGoGo campaign to fund the creation of their open source sensor pack and intends to also conduct a Kickstarter campaign in the future.
Correction: The previous byline listed was inaccurate. The byline has been updated.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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