How Close Are We to Saving the Bees?

A world without bees would… sting, to say
the least. It would be a place where up to a third of
our crops could be affected. A world without the sweetness of honey, or
its medicinal properties that can heal wounds and could guard against everything from allergies
to cancer. A world where our entire economy, health,
and even your second cup of coffee are all in jeopardy. But with beekeepers losing up to half their
colonies each year, scientists, farmers, engineers and, of course, beekeepers are foraging for
answers and creative solutions. So, how close are we to saving the bees? The last time you heard about bees in the
news, it might have been connected with a mysterious phenomenon called “colony collapse
disorder.” CCD was a series of strange, sudden disappearances
of entire colonies, where workers left behind a queen, some young, and plenty of
food, but not so much as a note. – Which makes it really hard to know what
happened, as if you’re trying to do kind of an autopsy without a body. We still haven’t pinned down the exact cause
of CCD. But researchers agree that a mix of the perilous
four Ps was likely to blame: parasites, pathogens, pesticides, and poor nutrition. And though reports of CCD itself have waned,
those four factors combined are still a major threat to bee health. – The Department of Agriculture makes surveys
every year to see how many colonies survive the winter months. The rate of losses for the beekeepers are
approximately 40-45%. Evan Henry’s research team believes that
the first step in saving the bees is to know, in real time, what the status of a colony
is. That’s why they developed Nectar, an in-hive
sensor and data management platform for beekeepers. – So here’s this beacon, our sensor device
that we installed a couple of weeks ago. It collects temperature, humidity, sound,
position data and sends it to the gateway here, which is solar powered. And it sends everything over 3G or 4G to the
cloud. The ability to remotely monitor and manage
their hives in real time is immensely valuable to commercial beekeepers, who might have as
many as 1000 hives spread across large areas. – We can help tell if the hive is queenless,
if the queen’s laying eggs are not, if the hive got knocked over by a bear or a predator…
we’re developing sensors that have longer batteries that are more affordable and more
durable to survive the inside of the beehive for a year on end, without recharging. We analyze that data using various machine
learning and AI algorithms where beekeepers can see the status of all the hives that are
connected as well as perform different management operations online or on their phone. This allows the beekeepers to be alerted immediately
to any changes in their hives, giving them more time to visit a colony, see what could
be affecting it, and save the bees in danger. Or, it can show them that everything’s okay. – So you can see here this is a brood pattern
of a healthy queen who lays eggs in every cell. When the queen is failing or less healthy,
she misses cells and has more of a shotgun pattern of the brood. But here we see the queen’s very healthy,
productive. This hive is clearly healthy. With information like this, beekeepers can
better monitor which of the four Ps are affecting their colonies. But we also want to prevent these problems
from happening in the first place. Pests, like the wax moth and hive beetle,
feast on everything the bees make… including their young. And they leave behind a rotten-orange-smelling yeast that smothers the hive. But even more  destructive is a tiny mite,
aptly named “Varroa destructor.” When the Asian mite encountered European bees,
it became an insidious pest, slowly wearing down their immune systems over time. – And with that compromise of the immune system,
those diseases have increased several fold. Some strains of those viruses became more
abundant and more lethal. Pathogens, like these viruses, are a nasty
threat of their own. In particular, a disease called Deformed Wing
Virus causes a baby bee’s wings develop too curly and shriveled to function. And even if bees don’t show signs of the
disease, they can still carry and spread it. This leads to trouble foraging and shorter
lifespans, which can be disastrous for a colony trying to make it through a long winter. – A lot of colonies come out with very, very
low numbers of workers that are not enough to get our colony going. So what do we do? – Let’s pump them up. Let’s feed the bee something that even if
he gets attacked by a mite, it can have the superhero strength to fight the diseases. Some think that “something” is a super vitamin of sorts derived from polypore mushroom extract. When administered to hives in a sugar water
solution, it resulted in a 79-fold reduction in instances of Deformed Wing. Others are using formic acid and menthol to
fend off the mites. Another solution? Neurotic queens. – People are looking into selecting queens
that their colonies are very clean, very, almost neurotic. They check on every cell and if they don’t
like the scent, if they think something’s wrong with that pupa, they’ll sacrifice that baby bee, they will interrupt that varroa mite breeding cycle. But there are more Ps to contend with. Pesticides may damage male drone bees’ sperm,
affecting their ability to reproduce. But the ultimate key to saving the bees could
be improving their poor nutrition. To build up the fat they need to make immune
proteins, bees require certain amino acids in their diet. – Bees that are fed on a variety of flowers
do better than those  that are fed on one or two crops. And as we simplify the environment, as we
create great landscapes for agriculture, we reduce the biodiversity of the forage. That’s why farmers are reserving parts of
their land for plants besides their primary crop. We haven’t even mentioned wild bees, but
there are ways to help them as well, like leaving part of your lawn overgrown. These little yellow critters provide an estimated
$15 billion service to U.S. agriculture alone and are an important piece of Earth’s ecosystem,
so we definitely want to keep them around. Between planting wildflowers, installing high-tech
sensor systems, and boosting their immunity, we have plenty of tools to preserve our furry
little friends. But will we do it in time? How close are we to saving the bees? – We’re closer to saving the bees than we were
ten years ago. We have sophisticated tools but we also create
a lot of disruption in the environment. Diet means a lot for bees. And so our success depends on how good we
make on the promise of keeping diversity and forage for bees. I’m actually encouraged by the concern overall
for pollinators and I think we are going to have to change the way we do some things to
keep them around. – In terms of securing our food supply, I think
we’re close. Next five to ten years, Nectar system and
other data collection techniques will be able to uncover and pinpoint sources of why honeybees
are dying. Using data, I think we’ll be able to improve
the efficiency and efficacy of the industry which will result in lower hive mortality,
higher productivity and better pollination services for the agricultural system. Fly on over to more episodes of How Close Are We? on this playlist. Don’t forget to subscribe, and come back to Seeker for your daily dose of science. Thanks for watching!


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