The assumption for this gloomy outlook is based on a recent trend that is expected to continue if we don’t take action. Almost 80 % of our food supply depends on, or at least benefits from, the pollination insects provide. This corresponds to an estimated €5 billion of annual EU agricultural output directly attributed to pollinators and even more in macroeconomic terms (world food supply, impact on commodity prices). Multiple drivers are responsible for the unfortunate situation of significant decline in pollinator abundance and diversity. More on that later, but first, why do pollinators matter?
Pollinators are a diverse group of insects, which transfer pollen between male and female parts of plants. They play a vital role in the plants’ fertilization and reproduction, and bees are famous representatives of this category in Europe. Since the honey bee is a domesticated species, countless of them simply starve over the winter due to a lack of supplementary nutrition. The global honey bee population decreased by a third in recent years. According to a report this decline already has dire effects on agricultural yield, and is caused by a series of threats namely land-use change, intensive pesticide use, environmental pollution, invasive alien species, and climate change.
How to avoid such a dystopian future?
The European Commission stressed the urgent need to act as it launched a public consultation on pollinator decline in January 2018. To develop an EU strategy, the Commission calls on scientists, farmers and businesses, environmental organisations, public authorities, and citizens to share their views and ideas. On that occasion Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan, stated: "Pollinators are too important for our food security and farming communities – as well as for life on the planet. We cannot afford to continue losing them." This realization in conjunction with the fact that honey bees can no longer survive in Europe without human assistance, asks for swift as well as efficient solutions. Fortunately, there are some innovations at our disposal that could save us from a future without bees!
One strategy is based on a distinctive characteristic of honey bees: As heterothermic insects, they can raise their body temperature and metabolic rate during activity and lower both when at rest. With the help of the Internet of Things (IoT) beekeepers can remotely monitor bees’ health by measuring humidity and the temperature of the apiary to obtain vital information on the colony status. Beehive scales indicate whether the beekeeper needs to act to ensure the hive has enough food in stock for the colder half of the year or determine if the surrounding area is suitable for honey production at all. Such decision support mechanisms not only make beekeepers’ lives easier, but they also improve the efficiency and quality of beekeeping. Consequently, this will increase the total amount of hives and, thus, of bees.
The ability to measure influence factors such as light and noise could be another feature which would help to detect possible disruptions in bees’ natural habitat. And on top of that, since apiaries are globally prevalent, the agricultural and scientific community may even utilize the information from beehives to correlate it with external data such as weather, cropping patterns, and application of agricultural chemicals to identify possible causes for the decline and improve pollinators’ chances of survival. Thus, IoT presents an array of solutions to ensure that bees, agriculture and society continue to thrive.