More on Databases and Beekeeping – Measuring Climate Change
Malcolm T. Sanford
In the March 2004 issue of Bee Culture (March 2004), Vol. 132 (3): 17-19, I published an article on databases and beekeeping. In that column, I noted that there has been a proliferation of these as the World Wide Web matures. Specifically I mentioned those on plant identification, pollinators, and bee management. Mostly, I referenced the tool authored by Mr. Glenn Engels mounted at mybeehives.com.1 Just after my column was published, Mr. Engles’ site passed the 1,000 colony mark and now accounts for 1896. There are 779 registered users who are enrolled at the site to manage their colonies. The site also has a link to my original article.
Since then another important database has been added. This is the one implemented to collect information on Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), authored by Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk and colleagues at Bee Alert Technologies.2 This “National Bee Loss Survey,” asks that beekeepers answer questions with reference to what they observe in:
1) Collapsed colonies
A. The complete absence of adult bees in colonies, with no or little build up of dead bees in the colonies or in front of those colonies.
B. The presence of capped brood in colonies.
C. The presence of food stores,
both honey and bee bread
i. which is not immediately robbed by other bees
ii. when attacked by hive pests such as wax moth and small hive beetle, the attack is noticeably delayed.
2) Cases where the colony appear to be actively collapsing
A. An insufficient workforce to maintain the brood that is present
B. The workforce seems to be made up of young adult bees
C. The queen is present
D. The cluster is reluctant to consume provided feed, such as sugar syrup and protein supplement
In addition, it asks beekeepers to fill out the survey whether or not they believe they have experienced CCD. Finally it is emphasized that all data collected is confidential and extremely helpful for determining the exact cause of CCD.
A recent post on the Bee-L discussion list attracted my attention; written in the subject line was “climate shift or ?”: It stated “Normally I just lurk, but with the way things are going here-central lower Michigan-I was wondering if what I am seeing is just here or elsewhere as well. Today is July 20 and I am seeing Goldenrod starting to bloom and Knapweed is in full bloom. The Milkweed is done; the Asters are ready to pop and there is a local farmer that is getting ready to harvest corn! Everything is about 4 weeks early. I ran into this a couple years ago and somewhat last year as well. By August and September everything is dried up and the bees are using their winter stores to survive the summer unless fed leaving starving colonies in the winter.”3
This brings me to another web site that has just been
mounted at NASA’S
Although NASA scientists can see the ground using satellite imagery with a great degree of accuracy and can measure many aspects of plant health and condition using remote sensing, including with gobal weather events such as “El Niño,” this technology does not reveal anything about flowering in plants or pollination. However, time of flowering (phenology4) can be a key to helping NASA understand climate change and can be usefully measured using scale hives, something beekeepers have traditionally implemented in their own management practices.
This is the genesis of HoneyBee Net. The following information is found on the main page of this World Wide Web site5:
“If you are interested in taking part in the scale hive study, we would appreciate it if you could fill out this one-page questionnaire and email it to Wayne Esaias.
“Quantitative information useful to beekeepers and scientists studying plant-pollinator interactions.
“A baseline from which to measure/predict climate change and land use/land cover change impacts.
“Demonstration of citizen-scientist role in climate impact studies - what’s happening in My Back Yard?
“Provides data for scientists to relate satellite observations to detailed phenological events.
“Data are needed to relate large scale climate and ecosystem models to local impacts.
“Will the Africanized Honey Bee establish resident populations in
Although much of the information to be collected is of
extreme interest to NASA, Dr. Esaias says the project at present is really only
in its beginning stages and has little funding.
Nevertheless, he has been able to mount the web site and begin testing
it using about 15 local
Scale hives have been extremely useful for beekeepers, but the technology may not be well known by some. Thus, Dr. Esaias provides useful advice about these on the site:
“The daily measurement of hive weight provides useful insight into the condition and activities of the honey bee colony, the timing of the honey bee nectar flow (HBNF), and the interaction of the bees with their environment. A scale hive record will give the beekeeper valuable information on the current status of the colony, when the nectar flow is on, and when it is over. Collection of such records is a very useful educational exercise for the beekeeper and for local clubs and associations
“The classic hive scale is the traditional manual platform “feed scale” with a deck about 17 x 24 inches, with a total capacity of 500 to 1000 lbs, and a minimum weight sensitivity of 0.25 lbs. The precision and relative accuracy of these beam scales is maintained by sliding a weight along the beam. . The principle of the operation (lever arm or beam balance) is robust, relatively insensitive to temperature, operates well regardless of rust and exposure to the elements.”
“A program for measurements of hive weight provides useful insight into the condition and activities of the honey bee colony, the timing of the honey bee nectar flow, (HBNF) and success of the interaction of the bees with their environment, and will provide a means for collecting and preserving the weight records. A variety of papers describe a range of weighing techniques that yield useful information for colony management purposes, most recently reviewed by Szabo and Mueller (1996, American Bee Journal 136:417-419). The purpose here is to provide a simple protocol, or recipe, for making scale hive measurements that provide insight into how the timing of the HBNF varies across the county and state, and over the years.
“The objective of these measurements is to provide multi-year to decadal records of HBNF timing to document its variability, and to assess and predict the effects of climatic change and land cover/land use change. A scale hive record will give the beekeeper valuable information on the current status of the colony, when the nectar flows occur and their duration, when swarms issued, and status of stores for over-wintering. Collections of these records provide a historical educational resource for the beekeeper, both individually and for local clubs and associations, and scientific investigators. Maintenance of such records (including publication) provides a record useful for future investigations and comparisons.
“The timing of the nectar flow depends strongly upon the local plant flora, and how those species respond to local weather and climate. Local/regional surveys of the nectar flow provide useful information on the abundance and distribution of the nectarous flora, and if taken over years, can detect land cover/land use changes as well as climate related changes.
Dr. Esaias describes a special procedure for participants in central
“Measurements can begin at any time in the year. Plan to begin measurements by mid-March to capture
the primary, or main nectar flow in the Tulip Poplar regions of
Also provided at the site are details on selecting and managing the colony to be used, along with tips on topics like swarm management and how to log entries with specific examples. Other information might also be beneficial even for beekeepers who decide not to participate and include feeding syrup, requeening, and what to do about hive bearding, rainy days and harvesting honey.
Dr. Esaias encourages non-beekeepers to be part of the project as noted
above. It is surprising how many people
are engaged in phenological activities from those looking at humming birds to a
full-fledged global network, which might be useful for those looking to
establish phenologies outside central
To round out his site, Dr. Esaias related some personal stories about his relationship with a scale hive. As he relates: “The old cast iron scales are extremely rugged. Once, I think in 1993 or 4, in early March, a deer ran headlong into my scale hive, and knocked in on its side. Deer tracks in the snow, with dog tracks along side, told the story, and the hive was in three separate piles. I saw it when I went to go to work, and immediately went to investigate. I found out very quickly that bees, even with snow on the ground, were still quite effective defenders and that they detest black wool socks, and I started hopping around. After getting properly dressed, I got most of the bees back in. The scale was none the worse for the wear, and the queen survived.” Send yours to email@example.com.
1. http://mybeehives.com, accessed July 21, 2007.
2. http://beealert.blackfoot.net/~beealert/surveys/index.php, accessed July 21, 2007.
3. http://listserv.albany.edu:8080/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0707c&L=bee-l&T=0&P=12713, accessed July 21, 2007.
4. . http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phenology, accesed July 21, 2007.
5. http://honeybeenet.gsfc.nasa.gov/Sites.htm, accessed July 21, 2007.
6. http://www.uwm.edu/Dept/Geography/npn/networks.html, accessed July 21, 2007.