Michigan Students Study Bee Populations

Kelly MarshallBees, Education, Research

bees-203August marks the month bees in Michigan will begin producing honey, and researchers at Grand Valley State University will take advantage of what they can learn from that with a $2.3 million grant from the USDA to study the decline in honeybee population.

The four-year, $200,000 study at Grand Valley, led by Jonathan Engelsma, professor of computing, will focus on collecting data from honeybee colonies using a variety of techniques and tools, including a website developed by Engelsma and a team of students. The website tracks activity — in real time — at apiaries across the country.

“About a third of what we eat is dependent on honeybees,” said Engelsma. “Honeybees pollinate much of the food in our diet, but the honeybee population has been declining for a number of years. This research seeks to understand why and find solutions.”

The website project began in 2012. It contains information captured by electronic scales from more than 150 hives; on in Hawaii and two in Grand Valley. The scales record weight, humidity and temperature every 15 minutes and the website gives anyone access to observe the data.

“Every morning when the sun warms a hive, we’ll see the weight drop about four pounds as bees leave to find nectar and pollen. Around mid-day, we see the weight increase as bees bring nectar and pollen loads back to the hive. Observing weight increases and decreases can reveal a lot of information about a hive; it’s healthy for a colony to gain weight, not lose it,” said Engelsma.

The information gained from the study should help offer best practice solutions for keepers. They hope to provide tools and resources for people in the beekeeping community, and in return many beekeepers are participating in the study by placing scales in their hives.

For more information, visit www.beeinformed.org.