The Internet of Bees Project Concludes with Further Developments on Pollinator Monitoring



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The EU-funded project, The Internet of Bees (io-bee.eu) is reaching its conclusion after developing a set of monitoring tools for bees, other insects and their environment. After more than two years of activities, IoBee developed and improved bee monitoring solutions in three-pillars: in-hive, in-field and satellite imaging. Besides, the project jumpstarted the creation of an open and integrative platform to gather, process and communicate on pollinator-related data named The Bee Hub. IoBee has now concluded its activities, which have greatly benefited from the constant feedback and cooperation of European beekeepers. 


IoBee is a project aiming at providing new tools to tackle the ongoing bee crisis. Bee populations have been declining in Europe since the nineties, putting at risk our agriculture and way of life. The decline of bees concerns us all as they play an essential role in our agricultural systems and the environment. 


Bees help pollinate crops and maintain balanced ecosystems. In Europe, around 84 per cent of plant species and 76 per cent of food production depend on pollination. Researchers estimate that if we do not address the bee crisis, and mortality continues to increase, the economic impact will be the loss of approximately 150 billion euros worldwide.


We are facing a complex problem that requires new solutions. IoBee is a multidisciplinary project that aimed at increasing our knowledge of bees and the relation with their environment. It introduces a variety of tools so that beekeepers, associations, researchers and policymakers can have a closer understanding of the environmental challenges that affect bees. IoBee is a new approach that integrates different monitoring solutions. Its main objective is to disrupt the beehive monitoring market with a never-before-seen integration of different technologies. IoBee is applying technological innovations associated with the Internet of Things to beekeeping and environmental monitoring.


IoBee integrates three different levels of monitoring and data analysis for assessing bee health. It combines in-hive and field monitoring with satellite mapping, applying Special Decision Support Systems to bee-related data.


In-Hive Monitoring


IoBee has produced and continuously improved cutting-edge monitoring systems for beehives. Its main development has been the improvement and testing of the bee counter, a monitoring system installed at the entrance of the hive that allows beekeepers to monitor their bees in real-time.


The bee counter tracks incoming and exiting traffic, providing valuable information for assessing the health of the colony. The beekeeper can then evaluate the strength of the foraging force, determine mortality rates in the field and identify deviations in flight duration and nectar availability. The bee counter sends collected data to a cloud server via a cellular network. It is then automatically processed and visualised through a user-friendly way. 


Digital monitoring brings beekeepers closer to their bees. They can access the information at any time from their internet-connected devices (smartphone, tablet, computer) and foresee which actions they should take next. IoBee's bee counters provide up-to-date information on the status of the colony. 


IoBee has continuously tailored its bee counters for the actual needs of beekeepers, gathering the feedback of representatives from the beekeeping sector. In collaboration with national beekeeping associations in 7 European countries (Austria, Belgium, France, Italy, Romania, Spain, Sweden, IoBee has organised field tests to understand the impact of different practices, conditions and challenges to the use of bee counter.


IoBee Bee Counter field tests in Belgium


IoBee has also developed an e-gate, a sensor that identifies insects entering and exiting the colony by colour detection. The e-gate works with RGB colour-code balance. It can determine if the hive is receiving some unexpected guests, such as pests.


In-Field Monitoring


IoBee has also aimed to improve observations of conditions beyond the hive. An optoelectronic sensor automatically provides insect count and identifies different species in the area. An in-field digital sensor measures the diversity and density of pollinators in the field. Monitoring pollinator availability is essential, considering the importance of not only managed but also wild pollinators for healthy ecosystems and agricultural prodution.


The sensor is a new user and insect-friendly response to the challenges of traditional traps used to count pollinator density and diversity. It identifies flying insects without disturbing them. Therefore, there is no need to trap, kill, nor manually count insects. As insects fly through, the sensor automatically identifies their flight pattern and matches it with a species in the database. 




The sensor is also able to detect plagues that affect bees, such as the Vespa Velutina or Asian hornet. This invasive species has become a challenge for bees and beekeepers. It continues to spread around Europe, meriting further attention and new detection systems. The sensor allows for early detection, which improves the chance for effective responses from individuals, associations and authorities.


Satellite Imagery


Both in and off hive sensors work in synergy with the third stage of development in IoBee. Monitoring parameters such as bee traffic and activity and the diversity and density of pollinators is jointly developed with satellite imaging and the application of Special Decision Support Systems. 


Applying a predictive model to data recovered by satellite imaging, it is now possible to provide a more extensive tool to understand the environmental conditions of bees. 


This last stage of IoBee makes it possible to determine the surrounding land use of a location. The beekeeper, association or other users can find out if a site is, for instance, surrounded by monocultures. Users can also discover the land cover types, whether this is, for example, grassland, forest, bare ground, or others. 


Finally, this tool provides users with historical data on phenology as well as a predictive model. They are now able to determine the availability of resources such as pollen or nectar, which directly influences the overall well-being of bees.


The Bee Hub - A platform for pollinator-related data


IoBee also seeded the first steps of a new platform for the integration and communication of pollinator-related data, The Bee Hub. BeeLife European Beekeeping Coordination, in collaboration with other project partners, developed a 'Proof of Concept' (PoC). 


Collecting data in the field is more important every day. Efforts conducted by authorities, independent researchers and citizen science continuously provide data on relevant parameters such as bee mortality, intoxication, pests, land-use and others. However, data often lacks integration, thus not reaching its full potential. The complex pollinator crisis requires a more integrated and collaborative perspective. Instead of having disconnected datasets on parameters relevant to pollinator health, there is a need for aggregation, integration and improved visualisation.



The first steps of this new platform were integrating four different data sources. They include winter mortality, honeybee mortality, varroa counts, and digital monitoring. After the conclusion of IoBee, The Bee Hub will continue its development, transforming from a PoC into a more advanced prototype. The Bee Hub is leading the way towards the integration and visualisation of different sources of data. Gathering, processing and communicating data will be an essential part of the future of bee and pollinator protection.


Conclusion


IoBee introduces an integrative logic that goes from the hive to the surrounding environment. The parallel development and integration of monitoring tools is a crucial element for IoBee. These new tools have only been possible to achieve with close collaboration with beekeepers around Europe. 


IoBee is an interdisciplinary project with partners from different countries of the European Union. It includes private firms, academia and Non-governmental organisations.


The parallel application of several tools is now opening the possibility to create a new integrative platform for pollinator-related data. 


We need bees for the future, and innovation is becoming essential to ensure their protection. IoBee is now concluding after significant efforts to integrate different solutions to achieve a better future for bees, for the environment, and ourselves, a reality.




NOTE TO EDITORS:


IoBee is an EU-funded project that aims to disrupt the beekeeping market by providing practical, timely and easy-to-use monitoring systems. The project focuses on the commercialisation of a new monitoring application, applying technological developments of the Internet of Things (IoT), capable of automatically evaluating the health of the colonies and their threats.


IoBee aims to create a valuable resource for all stakeholders in the beekeeping sector. IoBee counts with an interdisciplinary consortium. Partners range from technological and technical consultants such as IRIDEON (Spain) and AVIA-GIS (Belgium), monitoring systems manufacturers and developers CANETIS (IT), educational institution Hellenic Mediterranean University (Crete), to environmental NGO BeeLife European Beekeeping Coordination.





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