UK government figures suggest bee numbers have fallen by 10% to 15% over the past two years. The British Beekeepers' Association (BBKA) quotes a figure nearer 30% for 2008.
Since the declines were first reported a number of factors have been suggested. Most scientists now believe that a range of interacting factors is the most likely cause.
The team will use a combination of field work and computer modelling to look at how the bees' behaviour outside the hive, while looking for food, interacts with what is affecting bees in the hive — factors that have historically been studied separately.
The ultimate aim of the project is to build a model that will allow us to understand how bees may respond to diseases in a changing farmed landscape.
University of Warwick researcher Dr David Chandler said: "Honeybees are well known for their vital role as pollinators of crops, wild flowers and garden plants, but unfortunately their populations are in decline. We know that parasitic diseases caused by the varroa mite are partly to blame, but we think that there is also a link between these diseases and the quality of pollen and nectar that the bees are feeding on.
"Each bee colony contains about 50,000 bees in the summer, and so you can appreciate that the interactions between each bee, their various diseases and food quality are highly complex. The only way to tackle this is to use advanced mathematics combined with lab and field experiments. This is precisely what we are doing in this project."
See next week's Grower for more on this story.
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