Could Bees Be the Future of Pollution Monitoring?
By admin March 26, 2019

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For the first time, scientists are theorizing that beehives could be possible detectors of air pollutants in cities. A study was published in Nature Sustainability this month, outlining the findings from scientists from the University of British Columbia (UBC) who examined honey from urban beehives in six Vancouver neighborhoods. The project initially began when a local nonprofit managing the city’s urban beekeeping community, Hives for Humanity, asked a professor at UBC to check their honey for pollutants, as bees are known to pick up trace amounts of metals that have settled on flowers from the air.

This led to the idea that perhaps that honey could be used on a wider scale, with the potential to make statements about the state of air purity in Vancouver more generally. The team’s results indicated that honey from these bees can actually pinpoint the sources of environmental pollutants in the city’s air, ultimately telling us how clean the city is. Kate Smith, PhD candidate at UBC and leader of the project, described how the team’s use of isotope analyses, akin to fingerprinting, allows them to infer that the lead they detected “largely comes from humanmade sources.” As one might expect, concentrations of pollutants were found to increase closer to areas of high urban density, such as those with more traffic or increased industrial activity.

One of the major benefits of using honey is that it can provide an extremely localized view of the surrounding environment, as bees generally forage for pollen in a two-to-three-kilometer radius of their hives. Interestingly, in Ms. Smith’s study, the lead fingerprints of the honey samples taken did not match any local, naturally occurring lead. Instead, the fingerprints found resembled ores and coals that are often found in large Asian cities. As more than 70 percent of ships entering Vancouver’s port originate from Asia, it is possible that this source of industrial activity is one of the contributing factors to elevated lead levels in downtown Vancouver.

Continuing research will need to be carried out to further assess the overall efficiency of honey analysis as an alternative to traditional air and soil monitoring but, so far, its implications for sustainable development have great potential. This comes from arguably the largest socioeconomic benefit to this method: its accessibility. As Ms. Smith explains: “honey sampling can easily be performed by citizen scientists in other urban centers, even if they lack other environmental monitoring capabilities,” suggesting that by “bridging science with community interests,” communities will be able to continue with urban beekeeping while simultaneously providing an inexpensive way to track levels of pollution. This technology is not restricted by country either, making it a method that could easily be adopted worldwide. Since the dynamic environment of cities is constantly changing due to a host of factors, including climate change, technology may struggle to keep up. However, beehives continue to monitor pollutant levels despite these changes, making it possible for us to keep accessing the information without disruption.


For More Information:

Honey as a Pollution Detector? It’s a Sweet Idea

Honey bees can help monitor pollution in cities

Nature Sustainability: Honey As A Biomonitor For Changing The World

Scientists Want to Use Honey From Beehives to Monitor Pollution

Thanks for sharing !

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