University of São Paulo: Preserving the bee population is more efficient than replacing them with drones

Bees are an example of an important insect for the maintenance of agriculture with pollination. Due to changes in the environment by human action and climate change, especially those of the honey-producing type, which produce honey, are at great risk of disappearing .

This becomes a concern for humanity, which may have its food supply harmed. Professor Eduardo Almeida, from the Department of Biology at the Faculty of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters of Ribeirão Preto at USP, explains that in recent decades the “disappearance of colonies, of honeybee hives, has been observed in different parts of the planet”.

Why are they disappearing?

Almeida points out that there may be several factors for the disappearance of bees, such as the stress generated in them by the human activity of transporting the hives, the use of pesticides and other chemical compounds, the very changes in environmental conditions. “It could be that there are also pathogens associated with all these conditions, such as viruses and other types of pathogens.” He goes on to explain that “all these factors together apparently form a syndrome that will lead to a weakening of the bees’ health.”

If this continues and the mass extinction of these animals occurs, the professor warns that, without bees or other pollinating agents, the reproduction of plants or the formation of quality, well-developed fruits would be directly affected. “What happens is that the fruits will either not be produced in large quantities or they will be of inferior quality.”

Use of drones

If there was an extinction or reduction of these pollinators, would there be any way out to avoid losing agricultural production? Professor Marcelo Becker, from the São Carlos School of Engineering at USP, explains that insect-sized drones, among their various functions, could carry out pollination.

Although these drones do not yet exist, there are several research groups that are working on their creation. “Especially in the United States, we can talk about Harvard, MIT, England, other European countries that have been developing mini-aircraft for decades, little flying robots, very small in size, which are very similar to insects.”

But, as the professor points out, creating such a complex drone, based on the entire movement of the bee, would require a lot of investment and time, which would not solve the issue of pollination in the event of the extinction of these animals. “We would have to invest a lot in special materials, materials that are light and, at the same time, very resistant”, in addition to the complexity of simulating each leg of the bee.

Preservation is the best way

Both professors agree that, in this case, it is better to preserve the bees rather than wait for them to go extinct and create technology like drones to replace them.

For Becker, robots should help in the preservation of bees. “Maybe not with bee robots, but with other systems that can help us understand what is happening, monitor, observe their behavior.”

In this sense, as Almeida emphasizes, “maintaining natural populations of bees will be a more efficient and much cheaper solution than the development of miniature robots capable of promoting this pollination”. It is first necessary to find all ways to preserve and “give conditions for pollinators to promote this reproduction of plants, both in natural environments and in agricultural cultivation areas”.

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