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Space use by bees– radar tracking of spatial movement patterns of key pollinators


Current radar tracking technology to monitor insect movements in space allows us to catch only glimpses of their spatial movements – it is severely constrained by the restricted range that can be covered, the fact that individuals can only be tracked one at a time, and the lack of a height dimension. Here we propose ground-breaking technology advances to make insect telemetry fit for the 21st century, to answer multiple fundamental questions in pollinator space use and its implications for the plants they pollinate. We will work towards transponder miniaturisation to make application to a large number of insect species viable; we will develop radar technology to allow coverage of areas of up to 10km2 and the exploration of the 3rd dimension of insect flight, and we will adapt the equipment so that multiple individuals can be traced simultaneously. We will identify the rules of bee movements at the landscape scale, and the extent to which they use familiar landmarks and learnt vectors to link multiple locations. We will explore whether speed-accuracy tradeoffs are relevant in landmark navigation. Natural resource exploration and exploitation will be monitored over the entire foraging career of select individuals, and we will quantify individual differences in space use. Tracking bees in three dimensions will allow us to ask whether looking at the landscape from above aids efficient navigation. The tracking of multiple bees simultaneously will allow us to monitor competitive interactions as well as the possibility of social learning in space use. For the first time we will also track the spatial movement strategies of queens and males to see how they interface the search for mates with the need to forage efficiently. Our findings will have wide-ranging applications not just for the understanding of pollinator space use, but also for the conservation, management, and the understanding of mating patterns in the plants they pollinate.

Call for proposal

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Host institution

EU contribution
€ 2 064 951,90
E1 4NS London
United Kingdom

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London Inner London — East Tower Hamlets
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Administrative Contact
Catherine Cowton (Ms.)
Principal investigator
Lars Chittka (Prof.)
Total cost
No data

Beneficiaries (2)