While the rest of the world has been stung by a global bee crisis, Australia is saving them, says Shannon Harley.
BEES ARE RESPONSIBLE
for pollinating about one-third of food crops around the world – everything from almonds to avocados – but populations in North America and Europe have been decimated by the varroa mite parasite and monoculture, which is a double-edged sword that causes habitat loss and pesticide poisoning. These threats don’t necessarily kill bees immediately, but affect their immunity, memory and everyday functioning – much in the same way as one cigarette won’t kill you, but smoking two packs a day eventually might.
This perfect storm is called Colony Collapse Disorder and causes around a 30 per cent annual die-off in colonies around the world. Everywhere, that is, except Australia. It seems we are the lucky country for bees (and farmers, too, who benefit from their pollination services). We are the last varroa-free haven in the world, and industrial farming and pesticide use has not reached the scale of the US. This keeps our bees at the forefront of research to keep it that way.
Bees have predictable behaviour. They orient their flight to the sun and use the earth’s magnetic field to sense direction. This makes them the canaries of the environment, so any change in their behaviour is a warning sign for us.
In a world first, researchers at the CSIRO are fitting colonies with ‘bee backpacks’, sensors that record where they spend their time, how far they travel and what they get up to. The tiny tech is creating a huge buzz worldwide and is heading to the Amazon next. Bees are vital to our lives, and now the future of world populations may rest on the shoulders of the Aussie bee.