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Using satellites to move beehives 12 Jul 2013

A new online tool that uses images from NASA satellites is set to revolutionise the way Australia’s beekeepers find sources of nectar and pollen for their bees.

Called ‘BeeBox’ the online tool is the first of its kind in the world and uses historical and current satellite imagery to help beekeepers predict where and when eucalypt trees will flower. Most Australian beekeepers rely on flowering eucalypts to provide nectar and pollen for their bees, with most locating their hives within state-owned eucalypt forests.

Eucalypts are highly adapted to Australian conditions and their flowering cycle is complex. Most species only flower every two, three or four years and a number of factors influence flowering, including temperature and rainfall.

BeeBox, which has been developed with funding from the Rural Industries R&D Corporation, can be accessed for free from home or a mobile device and uses imagery direct from NASA satellites to provide the most up-to-date and accurate information about eucalypt flowering cycles.

The lead developer of BeeBox, Jonathan Arundel from the University of Melbourne said historical satellite imagery has been used to produce maps that show eucalypt growth cycles across south-eastern Australia over the past decade.

“Beekeepers can view growth at a single point in time, compare points in time, or select and plot eucalypt growth cycles over the past ten years,” Mr Arundel said.

“The variability and uncertainty of where and when eucalypt trees will flower has in the past prevented beekeepers from being able to plan the movement of their hives with a large degree of certainty. BeeBox now provides beekeepers with a level of information they’ve previously never had access to and should help them better predict eucalypt flowering cycles and hence inform the movement of their hives.

“Beekeepers have to drive vast distances every year in an effort to locate stands of flowering eucalypt trees that will provide adequate supplies of nectar and pollen for their bees, and fuel is by far the greatest cost for a beekeeping operation.

“BeeBox has the potential to considerably cut their costs – especially fuel costs – by allowing them to make better informed planning decisions and moving their hives less.”

BeeBox can be accessed at www.sideroxylon.com.au/beebox/ (BeeBox is only available on Safari, Chrome and Firefox internet browsers).

A user manual that provides a step-by-step guide to using BeeBox is available and can be accessed either via the RIRDC website at www.rirdc.gov.au or as an iBook through the Apple iBooks app.

Media contacts: Jonathan Arundel, ph. 0414 379 616; Damon Whittock, RIRDC Public Affairs Manager, ph. 02 6271 4175.