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For Virginia Tech researchers Margaret Couvillon and Roger Schürch, the Tower of Babel origin myth—intended to explain the genesis of the world's many languages—holds great meaning.
The two assistant professors and their teams have decoded the language of honey bees in such a way that will allow other scientists across the globe to interpret the insects' highly sophisticated and complex communications.
Paper - April - Issue - Animal - Behaviour
In a paper appearing in April's issue of Animal Behaviour, the researchers present an extraordinary foundational advance—a universal calibration, or for science fiction aficionados, a "babel fish," that translates honey bee communications across sub-species and landscapes. By deciphering the instructive messages encoded in the insects' movements, called waggle dances, the teams hope to better understand the insects' preferred forages and the location of these food sources.
"Before we can feed pollinators, we need to know when and where they need food. We must decode waggle dances," said Schürch, the paper's lead author. "So, this is a fundamental first step."
Researchers - Dances - Bees - Hives
The researchers analyzed the dances of 85 marked bees from three hives.
Honey bee transmissions, as it turns out, have echoing agricultural, environmental, and economic ramifications. The USDA estimates that one out of every three bites of food in the United States depends on honey bees and other pollinators. In monetary terms, insect pollinators support crop yields and agricultural ecosystems and are believed to contribute an estimated $24 billion to the U.S. economy annually.
College - Agriculture - Life - Sciences - Team
The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences team's work is part of a larger grant from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, a nonprofit established through bipartisan congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill. Couvillon and Schürch, along with fellow Department of Entomology assistant professor Sally Taylor and Megan O'Rourke, an assistant professor with the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences, are examining pollinator behavior in different landscapes to determine where...
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