The MODSIM 2015 International Congress on Modelling and Simulation opened today with a plenary talk by Mary Myerscough on honeybee colony collapse disorder. The talk was based on work published in PLOS ONE and in PNAS.
Mathematical modelling strongly suggests that the problem is caused by the death of foraging bees. The colony reacts by drafting younger hive bees into the foraging role. This strategy works well as a response to short-term problems but, since younger bees are less effective foragers, it sets up a positive feedback loop which can cause colony collapse. What is worse, the signs of impending collapse are subtle, being reflected only in the number of adult bees.
This interesting talk also provided a wonderful answer to the perennial question “how is mathematics useful?” The mathematics was accessible to anyone who could understand differential equations, and the problem was accessible to anyone at all. And, because of their role as pollinators, bees are very, very important.