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Drones can assist efforts to save bees and other pollinators

A new strategy using technology like satellites and drones can provide key information to protect pollinators. The researchers examined innovative ways of using these techniques to track the availability of flowers. When combined with behavioral studies, this could help us see the world through the eyes of insects.

The flowers that are available to insects can vary, and human activities are changing landscapes in ways that affect pollinators. The University of Exeter researchers hope their findings can help better understand these changes, leading to better conservation.

“Recent advances in drone and satellite technology have created new opportunities,” said lead author Dunia Gonzales, from the Centre for Research in Animal Behaviour at the University of Exeter.

“Drones can now give us fine details of a landscape – on the scale of individual flowers – and combining this with satellite imagery, we can learn about the food available to pollinators across a large area.”

“Along with behavioral studies of insects, this will help us understand the threats they face and how to design conservation programmes.”

Pollinator species, including wild bees, provide key services such as pollinating food crops. Sadly, many pollinator species are in decline. 

The research team believes that their work can help protect the great diversity of pollinator species that play vital roles in our ecosystems. This is more urgent now than ever before, as the impacts of climate change on pollinator behavior and habitats are unknown.

“Up to now, most research using satellites has focussed on large-scale agricultural landscapes such as oilseed rape, maize and almond farms,” said Gonzales. “We highlight the need to study landscapes with complex communities of plants and pollinators.”

“These vary from place to place – and using satellites and drones together is a good way to learn about these local differences.”

The paper is published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. The article is part of a special issue called “What sensory ecology might learn from landscape ecology” edited by Brazilian researchers.

By Katherine Bucko, Staff Writer

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