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New Zealand Plant Protection 67 (2014): 323

Can bees eavesdrop on biosecurity targets?

F.A. Mas, D.M. Suckling, T.J. Welsh, R.M. Horner, C.B. Henderson and J.J. Bromenshenk

ABSTRACT

Surveillance of unwanted organisms without lures is one of the greatest challenges in biosecurity. Previous work in the USA has shown that honey bees (Apis mellifera) can be trained to detect land mines. Based on this successfully proven method, the possibility of detecting key species of agricultural and biosecurity interest in a field environment was examined. Application examples presented here include detection of a weed in a crop, such as rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) in wheat, and detection of the Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) in a field. Bees were trained at the colony level on the specific odours of each target, and their ability to locate these odours in the field was measured with video cameras. Bees were able to detect rosemary hidden in a wheat crop and the cluster of four plants attracted significantly more bees than the positive and negative controls. Similarly, bees were shown to learn to detect the Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) trail pheromone, z-9-hexadecenal, and their response ranged down to parts-per-trillion (ppt, 10-12). However, there was a clear preference for higher concentrations that may be associated with higher expected rewards. Detection thresholds and the sensitivity of bees are discussed.

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