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Mapping particulate presence in apiculture across the UK

Honeybees are facing many threats including habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation; non-native species and diseases; pollution, including pesticides; and climate change. Air pollution could also have an impact but it has been the subject of little research. This project aims to understand the effect of air pollution and microplastics on honeybee health and productivity. Our first step is to map one component of air pollution, particulate matter (PM), and to see if particulate matter makes its way into the hives, the bee’s bodies and their hive products and investigate whether that correlates with disease, parasite loads and productivity.

Air pollution contains many contaminants, for this study we have chosen to investigate small particulates, or particulate matter (PM), which is a mixture of solids and liquid droplets floating in the air. Some particles are released directly from a specific source, while others form in complicated chemical reactions in the atmosphere.

Bee image
Bee image

We will focus on particles less than or equal to 10 microns (PM10s) and 2.5 microns or smaller (PM2.5s). PM10s are approximately the size of pollen grains and are comprised of dust and mineral particles, whilst PM2.5s are very fine and can only be seen with an electron microscope. They come from types of combustion, including cars, power plants, burning, and some industrial processes.

During 2021 we worked with 45 beekeepers from across the Midlands. We installed air quality sensors at their apiaries to record local air pollution, and collected samples of bees, honey, pollen and wax. We are currently analysing these samples for particulate matter and microplastics. Visit our blog to find out more.

If we find that the particulates are present, we will then carry out 1) a laboratory study to investigate the physiological effects of particulate pollution on honey bees using molecular and neuroethological techniques 2) a field study to investigate whether the effects recorded in laboratory conditions are replicated in field conditions.

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