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  • Writer's pictureDr. Clare Hancock

World Bee Day 2024 – “Bee engaged with youth” through STEAM.


75% of the food we eat relies on pollination, with nearly half of those crops relying specifically on bees. Further, the pollinating activity of bees is central to the stability of whole ecosystems and thus aids the support of plant, animal, and insect life beyond just the agricultural needs of humans. This all makes the UN estimate that 40% of invertebrate pollinators - of which bees are a large constituent - are at risk of extinction a cause for urgent concern and is why, in 2017, the UN officially declared May 20 th as World Bee Day.





Human activity is a significant driver of declining bee populations. Habitat loss, land

management practices (such as extensive grazing and crop monocultures), pesticide use, and climate change all contribute. We thus have the capacity to adapt our behaviors to diminish these effects and support healthy habitats in which bees, and other pollinators, can thrive once again.





In recognition of this year’s World Bee Day theme – “Bee engaged with youth” – the following will highlight the ways in which STEAM plays an integral role in encouraging and educating students about bee conservation to ensure ecological stability and sustainability into the future.




Science

An understanding of the ecological needs of bees is crucial to cultivating environments in which they can thrive. Educating the next generation about the principles of ecosystem structure and the interdependence between species can help to paint a fuller picture of the devastating effects of habitat loss and climate change on these finely tuned systems.


Lab research also plays a pivotal role in identifying, developing, and testing potential molecular solutions to maintaining bee health. Advances in the last few decades in genetic modification have facilitated new ways of increasing fitness in bees. For example, in a paper published last year, Prof. Moran and colleagues at North Carolina State University successfully increased honeybees’ survival following parasitic infection by genetically modifying the bees’ gut bacteria. Having a workforce equipped to approach bee conservation from the macro and micro perspectives – from whole ecosystems to strands of DNA, respectively – allows us to utilize a broad box of tools to address these issues.


Technology

As a new generation of conservationists arises, so does the opportunity for technological

innovation in supporting bee populations. For example, recent implementation of smart

technology in honeybee hives – such as “HIVEOPOLIS”, developed by a group at the University of Graz - equipped with robotic bees programmed to direct their biological counterparts to the optimal current food sources. This project, and others like it, heavily utilize artificial intelligence to monitor and adjust parameters in real time and to streamline maintenance of large numbers of bees simultaneously. Encouraging such modernized and inventive approaches to bee conservation will be of great benefit in future efforts.


Engineering and Art

Due to initiatives aiming to mitigate the effects of habitat loss and heightened interest among the general population in supporting such projects, engineering and design solutions that provide habitats for bees and other invertebrate pollinators have become a common sight. This emphasis on “ecological design” largely hinges on the planting of diverse flowers, shrubs, and trees that ensure blooms throughout the seasons as well as ensuring food sources for bees even in very urbanized areas.


The inclusion of “bee hotels” and “bee bricks” in building designs can also provide small tunnels and cavities in which some species of solitary bees like to live. When incorporating bee conservation initiatives into our everyday surroundings, a creative eye for design will no doubt incentivize adherence.


Math

A key tool in detecting and predicting population growth or decline is mathematical modeling. By compiling data from different locations, times, and bee species or populations, statisticians can identify patterns or correlations that can inform the actions taken to protect bees and their habitats. Having these numbers at hand furthermore sets the stage for the conception of computer simulations that model bee behavior and interactions within the hive and beyond. Simulations can be used to model population dynamics, interactions between bees and viruses or parasites, the effects of pesticides on bee populations, food availability, the effects of climate change, and much more. With there being many factors that can negatively affect bee populations, having a mathematical approach can help to understand general trends and take effective action.




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