Virtual' bees could help to unravel the "complex causes of colony decline" says a team led from University of Exeter.
The new computer model is designed to help scientists, beekeepers and regulators to understand multiple environmental effects on honeybee colonies.
Images of bees, hives and a clip of the virtual hive in action areavailable.
The BEEHAVE model, published today in the Journal of Applied Ecology, was created to investigate the losses of honeybee colonies that have been reported in recent years and to identify the best course of action for improving honeybee health.
A team of scientists, led by Professor Juliet Osborne from the Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter (and previously at Rothamsted Research), developed BEEHAVE, which simulates the life of a colony including the queen’s egg laying, brood care by nurse bees and foragers collecting nectar and pollen in a realistic landscape.
Osborne said: "It is a real challenge to understand which factors are most important in affecting bee colony growth and survival. This is the first opportunity to simulate the effects of several factors together, such as food availability, mite infestation and disease, over realistic time scales."
The model allows researchers, beekeepers and anyone interested in bees, to predict colony development and honey production under different environmental conditions and beekeeping practices. To build the simulation, the scientists brought together existing honeybee research and data to develop a new model that integrated processes occurring inside and outside the hive.
The first results of the model show that colonies infested with a common parasitic mite (varroa) can be much more vulnerable to food shortages. Effects within the first year can be subtle and might be missed by beekeepers during routine management. But the model shows that these effects build up over subsequent years leading to eventual failure of the colony, if it was not given an effective varroa treatment. Read