Long distance drone tracking of key pollinators in agricultural and natural landscapes
Many plant species, including numerous agricultural ones, depend on pollinator services; yet agricultural intensification and urbanisation have caused habitat loss and fragmentation, leading to substantial declines of some pollinators. Any forecasts, risk assessments and remedies thus hinge crucially on understanding how pollinators use space; however, most studies of pollinator spatial movements have taken place over the extremely restricted areas that human observers can monitor – within flower patches in nature, or flight cages in the laboratory, or indirect measures such as the relatedness of individuals within a patch. Current harmonic radar tracking equipment, the most precise available technology to monitor individual 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, and the fact that individuals can only be tracked one at a time, in flat terrain. This study will use Bangor University’s revolutionary pollinator-tracking technology designed to follow honey and bumblebees across their entire foraging range in real time with high accuracy. Here we propose ground-breaking technological advances to make insect telemetry fit for the 21st century, to answer multiple fundamental questions about how pollinators operate in space, and to explore implications for the ideal spatial distributions for the plants they pollinate. The tracking-system is currently being validated and will be functional by Autumn 2018. By summer 2019 we expect to be able to track multiple individuals simultaneously using a fleet of autonomous drones communicating with each other.
The field-work will combine validated experimental spatial approaches developed at Rothamsted and QMUL, with Bangor’s novel tracking technique.
- Characterise the flight and foraging behaviour of B. terrestris and B. lapidarius, in a controlled experimental design at Henfaes Research Farm
- Quantify the minimum floral threshold required for pollinators to persist
- Identify key components of a managed landscape successful to bees.
The results from this ground-breaking PhD project shall provide essential information to land-managers planning the sustainable intensification of agricultural areas. Outputs are expected to generate papers in very high impact journals as this will be the first time science has managed to track pollinators in three-dimensional space in real time.
The outcome and objectives of this PhD proposal are complementary to Lars Chittka’s ERC Advanced Grant “SpaceRadarPollinator” exploring several fundamental research questions about insect pollinators with conventional radar tracking technology.
For enquiries, please email Dr. Paul Cross (email@example.com), Dr. Jason Lim (firstname.lastname@example.org), Prof Lars Chittka (email@example.com) or Dr. Andy Reynolds (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Suitable candidates should have a class 1 honours degree in biological sciences or equivalent. Experience working with honeybees of bumblebees is strongly desired.