Honeybees as sensors of airborne particulate matter

Honeybees as sensors of airborne particulate matter

Researchers in a highly polluted area of the Po Valley, northern Italy, conducted a study using honeybees as sensors of airborne particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5).

A study hive was placed in the peri-urban area of the City of Parma and worker bees were collected from June to October. Control bees were newly eclosed individuals from a brood frame kept in a growth chamber. Particles attached to the body of each of the sampled bees were analysed using a scanning electron microscope with X-ray spectroscopy (SEM/EDX).

The honeybees sampled from the study hive were found to have accumulated large amounts of airborne particulate matter, while no particulate matter was detected on the control bees. Most of the particulate matter detected was naturally derived minerals, such as quartz, phyllosilicates, calcite, and feldspars from the surrounding r and agricultural soils. However, pollution from traffic and an incineration plant were also detected. For example, iron compounds and barite were frequently found and probably derived from vehicle mechanical parts, brakes and tyres, and non-crystalline silica dust was found on bee wings and likely from high-temperature combustion.

The levels of particulate matter detected varied depending on the time of year. The levels of natural mineral compounds was closely linked to agricultural cultivation cycles, and the presence of metal-bearing particulate matter increased with elevated local road traffic during holidays.

Read the full paper:
Capitani G., Papa, G., Pellecchia, M., & Negri, I. (2021) Disentangling multiple PM emission sources in the Po Valley (Italy) using honeybees. Heliyon, 7 (2), e06194, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.heliyon.2021.e06194.