Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Quick Studies

bee

(Photo: Sean McCann/Flickr)

Will Digital Beehives Save Us From Colony Collapse Disorder?

• March 06, 2014 • 9:45 AM

(Photo: Sean McCann/Flickr)

New software allows researchers to model life inside a bee colony more efficiently, which could help prevent economic catastrophe.

Forget the bee suit: This week, scientists introduced a computer program that allows anyone at home in their pajamas to watch the entire lifespan of a honeybee colony play out in seconds. The software is called BEEHAVE, and it’s a modeling system designed to help users understand how different factors in a beehive’s environment affect bees’ productivity and health.

Honeybees have been staples in the news for the past decade because their numbers seem to be dropping. Beekeepers throughout North America and Europe have been reporting unusually high annual losses, but the cause is hotly debated. The decline might just be part of a natural fluctuation, or it could be the result of colony collapse disorder, an abrupt and widespread disappearance of bees—possibly driven by humans—that could lead to economic catastrophe. Bees, the world’s primary pollinators, are used commercially to grow more than $200 billion worth of crops each year.

BEEHAVE is not the first computer program to model bee behavior, but it is the first to integrate such a wide variety of potentially harmful conditions into a single system.

The field research needed to account for enough environmental factors to get to the bottom of this mystery is expensive as well as “immensely complicated and difficult to do,” said Pernille Thorbek, one of the project’s collaborators, in a press release. So to make things easier, he and his colleagues decided to create their own digital bee colonies to have full control over variables that may contribute to their deaths. BEEHAVE simulates a colony’s whole life—with models for the queen laying eggs, nurse bees attending to her brood, foragers collecting nectar and pollen, etc.—and allows users to throw in stressors like food shortages, mite infestations, pesticides, and diseases to see how their digital bees fare over time in different contexts.

In minutes, the program provides years of hypothetical data.

“While empirical research is essential to create new knowledge, in silico experiments can help to provide understanding of the findings and highlight critical knowledge gaps,” according to the study that introduces the program, “as they allow us to test and analyse the effects of a variety of factors and interactions between them in a fast and cost-effective way.”

BEEHAVE is not the first computer program to model bee behavior, but it is the first to integrate such a wide variety of potentially harmful conditions into a single system, and therefore the most realistic, its creators claim. In initial trials, the program has suggested colonies infested with common mites are more vulnerable to food shortages, forager bees are more resilient to pesticides than previously thought, and nearby food sources are key to keeping hives healthy, even if the hives have good foragers.

While the model is far too new to say anything definitive about the state of the world’s honeybees, the researchers designed it to be updated and expanded with the hopes that it will stay relevant in the conversation for a long time. The program is free to download, and, according to collaborator Juliet Osborne, “user-friendly,” so that it can be “explored and used by a large variety of interested people,” not just experts.

Paul Bisceglio
Editorial Fellow Paul Bisceglio was previously an editorial intern at Smithsonian magazine and a staff reporter at Manhattan Media. He is a graduate of Haverford College and completed a Fulbright scholarship at the University of Warwick in Coventry, United Kingdom. Follow him on Twitter @PaulBisceglio.

More From Paul Bisceglio

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

November 24 • 4:00 AM

Nudging Drivers, and Pedestrians, Into Better Behavior

Daniel Pink’s new series, Crowd Control, premieres tonight on the National Geographic Channel.


November 21 • 4:00 PM

Why Are America’s Poorest Toddlers Being Over-Prescribed ADHD Drugs?

Against all medical guidelines, children who are two and three years old are getting diagnosed with ADHD and treated with Adderall and other stimulants. It may be shocking, but it’s perfectly legal.



November 21 • 2:00 PM

The Best Moms Let Mess Happen

That’s the message of a Bounty commercial that reminds this sociologist of Sharon Hays’ work on “the ideology of intensive motherhood.”


November 21 • 12:00 PM

Eating Disorders Are Not Just for Women

Men, like women, are affected by our cultural preoccupation with thinness. And refusing to recognize that only makes things worse.


November 21 • 10:00 AM

Queens of the South

Inside Asheville, North Carolina’s 7th annual Miss Gay Latina pageant.


November 21 • 9:12 AM

‘Shirtstorm’ and Sexism in Science

Following the recent T-shirt controversy, it’s clear that sexism in science persists. But the forces driving the gender gap are still being debated.


November 21 • 8:00 AM

What Makes a Film Successful in 2014?

Domestic box office earnings are no longer a reliable metric.



November 21 • 6:00 AM

What Makes a City Unhappy?

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, Dana McMahan splits time between two of the country’s unhappiest cities. She set out to explore the causes of the happiness deficits.


November 21 • 5:04 AM

Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends’ perceptions suggest they know something’s off with their pals but like them just the same.


November 21 • 4:00 AM

In 2001 Study, Black Celebrities Judged Harshly in Rape Cases

When accused of rape, black celebrities were viewed more negatively than non-celebrities. The opposite was true of whites.


November 20 • 4:00 PM

Women, Kink, and Sex Addiction: It’s Not Like the Movies

The popular view is that if a woman is into BDSM she’s probably a sex addict, and vice versa. In fact, most kinky women are perfectly happy—and possibly healthier than their vanilla counterparts.


November 20 • 2:00 PM

A Majority of Middle-Class Black Children Will Be Poorer as Adults

The disturbing findings of a new study.


November 20 • 12:00 PM

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.


November 20 • 10:00 AM

For Juvenile Records, It’s ‘Justice by Geography’

A new study finds an inconsistent patchwork of policies across states for how juvenile records are sealed and expunged.


November 20 • 8:00 AM

Surviving the Secret Childhood Trauma of a Parent’s Drug Addiction

As a young girl, Alana Levinson struggled with the shame of her father’s substance abuse. But when she looked more deeply into the research on children of drug-addicted parents, she realized society’s “conspiracy of silence” was keeping her—and possibly millions of others—from adequately dealing with the experience.



November 20 • 6:00 AM

Extreme Weather, Caused by Climate Change, Is Here. Can Nike Prepare You?

Following the approach we often see from companies marketing products before big storms, Nike focuses on climate change science in the promotion of its latest line of base-layer apparel. Is it a sign that more Americans are taking climate change seriously? Don’t get your hopes up.


November 20 • 5:00 AM

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn’t vanish as we age—it just moves.


November 20 • 4:00 AM

The FBI’s Dangerous Misrepresentation of Encryption Law

The FBI no more deserves a direct line to your data than it deserves to intercept your mail at the post office. But it doesn’t want you to know that.


November 20 • 2:00 AM

Brain Drain Is Economic Development

It may be hard to see unless you shift your focus from places to people, but both destination and source can benefit from “brain drain.”


November 19 • 9:00 PM

Gays Rights Are Great, but Ixnay on the PDAs

New research suggests both heterosexuals and gay men are uncomfortable with public same-sex kissing.


November 19 • 4:00 PM

The Red Cross’ Own Employees Doubt the Charity’s Ethics

Survey results obtained by ProPublica also show a crisis of trust in the charity’s senior leadership.



Follow us


Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends' perceptions suggest they know something's off with their pals but like them just the same.

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn't vanish as we age—it just moves.

Ethnic Diversity Deflates Market Bubbles

But it's not in the rainbow and sing-along way you'd hope for. We just don't trust outsiders' judgments.

Online Brain Exercises Are Probably Useless

Even under the guidance of a specialist trainer, computer-based brain exercises have only modest benefits, a new analysis shows.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.