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Using colony monitoring devices to evaluate the impacts of land use and nutritional value of forage on honey bee health

January 1, 2018

Colony monitoring devices used to track and assess the health status of honey bees are becoming more widely available and used by both beekeepers and researchers. These devices monitor parameters relevant to colony health at frequent intervals, often approximating real time. The fine-scale record of hive condition can be further related to static or dynamic features of the landscape, such as weather, climate, colony density, land use, pesticide use, vegetation class, and forage quality. In this study, we fit commercial honey bee colonies in two apiaries with pollen traps and digital scales to monitor floral resource use, pollen quality, and honey production. One apiary was situated in low-intensity agriculture; the other in high-intensity agriculture. Pollen traps were open for 72 h every two weeks while scales recorded weight every 15 min throughout the growing season. From collected pollen, we determined forage quantity per day, species identity using DNA sequencing, pesticide residues, amino acid content, and total protein content. From scales, we determined the accumulated hive weight change over the growing season, relating to honey production and final colony weight going into winter. Hive scales may also be used to identify the occurrence of environmental pollen and nectar dearth, and track phenological changes in plant communities. We provide comparisons of device-derived data between two apiaries over the growing season and discuss the potential for employing apiary monitoring devices to infer colony health in the context of divergent agricultural land use conditions.