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Smartphone apps to protect our honeybees 04 Jun 2013

Researchers have developed smartphone apps as a means of immediately detecting an exotic bee or bee-pest incursion on Australia’s shores. 

The project has been funded by the Pollination Program, a joint initiative of the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) and Horticulture Australia Limited (HAL), and is being run by the National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture (NCEA) at the University of Southern Queensland.

So-called bait boxes are placed near Australian ports to attract bees hitching a ride into the country, potentially carrying pests such as the Varroa mite which has devastated honeybee industries around the world. These are currently monitored manually, which can be time-intensive, expensive and irregular.

NCEA’s Cheryl McCarthy says remote monitoring provides a lower cost and more effective alternative, potentially saving time and money and improving biosecurity.

“We’ve had two bait boxes fully operational in Brisbane and Cairns for the past six months. Their interiors are photographed every 15 minutes and the images uploaded to the internet along with other data,” Dr McCarthy said.

“The use of smartphone technology has allowed us to monitor the boxes 24/7. The images have all been of sufficient visual quality to clearly indicate the presence of bees in the bait box, proving the smartphone apps are an efficient way for us to detect an exotic bee incursion.

“The aim is that when an incursion occurs at an Australian port, the smartphone image capture will indicate a higher activity level in the boxes and alert authorities, who can then manually check the boxes to confirm that bees are present.”

With the project recently completed, Dr McCarthy says the findings indicate future opportunities to expand the number of bait boxes deployed in Australia.

“While it does need further evaluation and additional software development, we have the proof of concept that smartphone technology in monitoring these boxes remotely can work, which is a major milestone. 

“Ideally, once we have worked on the success of ensuring our decoys are working at the best levels, we can have a network of at least 100 remotely-monitored bait boxes deployed around Australia’s shores and ports.”

The website where images are posted every 15 minutes is publicly available at http://portbees.nceaprd.usq.edu.au/Display.htm

For more information about the Pollination Program head to www.rirdc.gov.au/pollination.