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Honey bees are under extreme pressure. The number of honey bee colonies in the US has been declining at an average rate of almost 40% since 2010. The biggest contributor to this decline is viruses spread by a parasite, Varroa Destructor. But this isn't a natural situation. The parasite is spread by beekeeping practices, including keeping the bees in conditions that are very different from their natural abode of tree hollows.
A few years ago, I demonstrated that the heat losses in man-made honey bee hives are many times greater than those in natural nests. Now, using engineering techniques more commonly found probing industrial problems, I've shown that the current design of man-made hives also creates lower humidity levels that favor the Varroa parasite.
Nests - Cavities - Humidity - Levels - Honey
Natural nests inside tree cavities create high humidity levels in which honey bees thrive and which prevent Varroa from breeding. So if we can redesign beekeeper hives to recreate these conditions, we could help stop the parasite and give honey bees a chance to recover.
The life of the honey bee colony is intimately entwined with its home. We can see this from the sophisticated way honey bees choose nests of the correct sizes and properties, and how hard they work to modify them. In fact, the nest can be seen as part of the honey bee itself, a concept that in biology is known as an "extended phenotype", which refers to all the ways a creature's genes affect the world.
Example - Phenotype - Beaver - Environment - Flow
Perhaps the most common example of an extended phenotype is that of the beaver, which shapes its environment by controlling the flow of water with dams. Nests enable honey bees to similarly adjust their environment by controlling the flow of two fluids—air and water vapor—plus something that acts like a fluid—heat.
The honey bees select a tree hollow with an...
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