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Bees in Rural Areas Travel Farther for Food, New Study Finds

Bees in Rural Areas Travel Farther for Food, New Study Finds

Saturday, 9 October, 2021 - 06:15
Bees are seen in front of a hive in "Bee hotel with five stars" in Garesnica, Croatia, August 23, 2021. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic

It's well known that honeybees pull off some nifty dance moves when they want to communicate with each other. But scientists have now decoded these 'waggles' — a kind of shuffle the bees perform to tell the rest of their colony where to find nectar — and found that those in rural areas travel 50 percent further for food than their urban friends, The Daily Mail reported.

The waggle dance is used to communicate the location of flowers. When one bee finds a good patch, it returns to the hive and performs a figure of eight movement on the honeycomb to tell others where to find the food. Other bees observing the dance know how far to fly based on the duration of the central run of this dance, while the angle tells them which direction to go.

The study looked at more than 2,800 waggle dances from 20 honeybee colonies in London and the surrounding countryside. Researchers at Royal Holloway University and Virginia Tech calculated that bees in urban areas had an average foraging distance of 1,614ft (492m), compared to 2,437ft (743m) for bees in agricultural areas.

They also found no significant difference in the amount of sugar collected by the urban and rural bees, indicating that the longer foraging distances in rural areas were not driven by far away, nectar-rich resources. Instead, urban areas provided honeybees with consistently more food, thanks in part to the work of city gardeners.

The study's author Professor Elli Leadbeater, from Royal Holloway University, said: "Our findings support the idea that cities are hotspots for social bees, with gardens providing diverse, plentiful and reliable forage resources."

"In agricultural areas, it is likely harder for honeybees to find food, so they have to go further before they find enough to bring back to the hive," she added.

The researchers warn that because urban areas make up a small percentage of total land cover, they are unlikely to be sufficient to support bee populations across a landscape dominated by intensive agriculture.

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