RFI Tags Help Track British Bee Brain Damage

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Photo by cygnus921 via Flickr CC

The flight patterns of bees in Britain is getting some special attention as scientists study potential causes for colony collapse disorder. Researchers are fitting tiny radio tags to the insects to monitor their flights and determine whether or not pesticides are affecting the brains of bees, leading them to lose abilities like navigate, collect food, or communicate food sources to their hive mates. It is part of a $14.7 million research push to slow or reverse the dizzying decline of pollinating insects that could lead to the collapse of our food supplies. Radio frequency identity tags, or RFI tags, will record when the bees come in and out of the nest, and researchers will weigh the bees to see how successful they are at finding and bringing back food. The research strategy is very much like a microchip project conducted in France earlier this year. Their ability to navigate and communicate food sources determines the success or failure of a hive. Pesticides, however, may be a primary cause in the rapid failure of so many hives.

PhysOrg reports that of Britain's 25 bumblebee species, three are now extinct and half have declined by as much as 70%. That, along with drops in butterfly and moth numbers, spells potential disaster for crops which depend on the insects for pollination.

"We can take for granted the variety of vegetables, fruits and flowers that we can enjoy every day but some of the insect pollinators on which they rely are in serious decline," Professor Alan Thorpe, chief executive of the Natural Environment Research Council. "Understanding the complexities of environmental ecosystems is a priority that will help to ensure the survival of pollinators and the benefits they provide."

Along with this specific attention to pesticides, British researchers are also analyzing the impacts of diseases, changes in land use, and biodiversity on bees.

Meanwhile, the City of London is celebrating bees by placing hives on the roofs of eight major buildings, including St. Paul's Cathedral and the Museum of London. It's all eyes on bees right now!