Why using bees to monitor environmental pollution?

Bee is a reliable indicator of environmental quality because she is daily in contact with several pollutants, on a large surface of exposure. 



Natural samples on water/air/ground matrixes:

Accumulation des polluants par l’abeille

While foraging, bees naturally sample pollutants on the ground through nectar, pollen and honeydew collected on flowers and trees.


They also sample water when they drink in puddles and pits (a whole colony drinks around 100 liters of water per year).


Finally, an electrostatic field generated around their bodies catch all particles in suspension while they fly.


So, bee is an excellent and natural homogeneous bio-collector of pollutants. 


A large radius of action:


We estimate that bees forage on a 1,5 to 3 km radius around their hive, depending on food quantity.


Claudio Porrini said : « If we take into account the fact that a hive contains around 40 000 bees, and that a quarter of them are foragers daily visiting a thousand flowers each, we can estimate that a colony daily does 10 millions of micro-samples. »


Bee is then an excellent pollutant sampler, on a surface going up to 27km². 




How do we analyze pollutants collected by bees (APIDIAG© Method)?

From hives previously set up on an area to study, APIDIAG method consists in sampling bees to analyze them and quantify specific pollutants researched.


This method enables to realize comparisons:

  • Spatially (realization of multiple samples on different sites at the same moment)
  • Temporally (realization of successive samples in a year)




How to interpret results obtained?
Presentation of the Bee Index

Up to now, no regulatory thresholds concerning pollutant concentrations in bees were developed. Tools for results interpretation are depending on the family of analyzed pollutants.


L’indice abeille

For Heavy Metals and PAHs:


For Heavy Metals and PAHs, indexes for environmental quality were developed on the basis of national and international scientific publications and previous national sampling campaigns.


Values for the index were then split into 10 levels of pollution, in order to obtain a grade from 1 to 10. Finally, a description (from « Very Good » to « Bad ») was given for each category. 



Other pollutants:


For other pollutants, such as PCBs, dioxins/furans, COVs and particles, there are no sufficient data to create a bee index for environmental pollution. Interpretation is then done by spatiotemporal comparisons.

From one part, concentrations are compared to values observed on a control apiary considered as representative of local background concentrations. From another part, variations in time are analyzed: seasonal and annual variations.


What are the pollutants detectable in the environment thanks to bees ?

Here is a non-exhaustive list of pollutants that can be found in the environment thanks to bees:

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APIALERTE won a gold medal during World Beekeeping Awards 2013
APIALERT bee counter won a gold medal in innovation category during World Beekeeping Awards 2013 in Kiev, Ukraine.  
APIALERT Won a gold medal in innovation category of the World Beekeeping Awards 2013 (WBA2013)