Researchers from the University of Exeter, UK, developed a new virtual tool to assess potential solutions to boost bees’ survival, according to a study published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution (1). The virtual system – named BEE-STEWARD – provides computer simulations regarding the survival of bee colonies in different landscapes, allowing farmers and land managers to pick the ones with the highest chances of survival.
Understanding how bee colonies are affected in different environments is very complex and relies on many different factors. This means it’s difficult for farmers and land managers to decide the best way to manage land to protect the bees. This issue prompted a team of researchers from Exeter University to create computer models for honeybees (BEEHAVE) bumblebees (Bumble-BEEHAVE). These are now available freely online as BEE-STEWARD.
However, to be really helpful to help bees thrive, these models need to reach the people who have to make decisions when it comes to land management. The idea is for farmers and policymakers to use these models to test different land management approaches to assess the best options to stimulate the growth and survival of bees.
“We know that pollinator decline is a huge problem for crops and also for wildflowers,” said Dr Grace Twiston-Davies, of the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall. BEE-STEWARD takes into account the many complicated factors that interact to affect bumblebees. This provides a virtual safe space to test out different bee-friendly management options. It’s a free, user-friendly tool, and we have worked with land managers and wildlife groups on the ground to create it together.”
At the moment, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust is using BEE-STEWARD to help farmers around Cornwall. Various land management options are being tested across 1500 ha of land in collaboration with the National Trust, Duchy of Cornwall Estate, Treiwthen Dairy and Kellys of Cornwall.
“Testing the BEE-STEWARD tool has helped us predict how best to provide new and improved habitat for pollinators in an informed way, considering existing and proposed flora, flowering times and location. This has focused decision making by identifying pollinator habitats that are lacking in a particular landscape, enabling us to focus our attention to improve and protect these specific areas”, said Ashley Taylor, from Duchy of Cornwall Estate.
The main advantage is that anybody can use BEE-STEWARD, and no modelling experience is required. For the researchers, this is an ideal way to share methodology between researchers and policymakers. “‘The Bee-Steward model will be fantastic for conservation planning – it lets us time-travel to see the long-term results of changing management and compare all the possible options to see which one will work out best for bumblebees”, concluded Dr Richard Comont, from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.
(1) Twist on-Davies G, Becher M and Osborne J (2021) BEE-STEWARD: A research and decision-support software for effective land management to promote bumblebee populations. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, https://doi.org/10.1111/2041-210X.13673