Dancing honeybees assess the health of the environment

Eavesdropping may be rude, but snooping on honeybee conversations could reveal a lot about the environment. Their unique mode of communication, the waggle dance, contains clues about the health of the landscape they live in. In effect, the bees are giving a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to different methods of conservation.

A worker honeybee performs the waggle dance to tell her hive mates where the best food is located. That suggests the dance can indicate areas of the landscape that are healthy, at least in terms of food for pollinators.

To test this, Margaret Couvillon and her colleagues from the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK, videoed and decoded 5484 waggle dances from three laboratory-maintained honeybee colonies living in 94 square kilometres of rural and urban landscapes. They divided the area into various conservation schemes, regulated by the UK government, and mapped which areas were most frequented by the bees over two years.

“Using honeybee colonies as biomonitors for environmental health is an idea that researchers have been interested in,” says James Nieh from the University of California, San Diego. “However, this study uses a far larger sample size and examines the data in a more sophisticated way.”

source : http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn25615-dancing-honeybees-assess-the-health-of-the-environment.html#.U3735Sh8_sQ

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