Four honeybee hives in the Boone community are equipped with the Beemon system created by students and faculty in the Department of Computer Science at Appalachian State University.

BOONE — Hardworking honeybee populations — responsible for a third of the food on Americans’ plates — are on the decline in the U.S., meaning food shortages and higher prices at grocery stores could become the future norm. Data gathered by faculty researchers at Appalachian State University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte could alter that trend.

The research team, led by App State’s Rahman Tashakkori, will conduct a three-year honeybee research program to help address this decline. The program is supported by a nearly $1.1 million grant through the University of North Carolina System’s Research Opportunities Initiative.

As part of the program, the team will create a new beekeeping information system called AppMAIS (App State Multipurpose Apiary Informatics System) to investigate the health, development and genomic diversity of honeybee hives in North Carolina.

The shared data from their research will inform scientists, researchers, educators, beekeepers and the public.

The researchers will employ an open-source internet platform and the Beemon hive monitoring system designed and built by computer science faculty and students at App State.

“This award underscores the impactful, high-quality research being conducted by Appalachian faculty,” said App State’s Ece Karatan, vice provost for research. “The project has the potential to make App State and North Carolina a national and international hub for apiary informatics.”

App State students taking part in the project’s cutting-edge research opportunities will be well positioned for graduate school or careers in computer science and biology, Karatan added.

The science of AppMAIS

AppMAIS will provide both beekeepers and researchers with an opportunity to remotely monitor their hives’ growth and health, according to Tashakkori, who serves as the Lowe’s Distinguished Professor of Computer Science and chair of the Department of Computer Science. Tashakkori noted manual observation and monitoring of the hives is not feasible on a large scale.

Using AppMAIS, 30 healthy and unhealthy hives in different environments across the state will be monitored. The system will collect and analyze audio and video recordings of hive activity, along with data on hive humidity, temperature and weight.

The team will also extract DNA samples from multiple honeybees and observe the bees’ genetic diversity changes over the course of a season and between hives.

The project will provide hands-on training opportunities for computer science, biology and biochemistry students at App State and UNC Charlotte, as well as for North Carolina beekeepers who participate in the project.

The AppMAIS faculty team is one of only three at institutions across the UNC System awarded an ROI grant for the 2022–24 cycle.

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