From AI-powered beehives to weed-seeking robots, here are the most exciting innovations protecting the world's creepy crawlies in 2022
COP27 might have dominated headlines in recent weeks, but there’s an additional COP this year that also needs talking about: the UN Biodiversity Conference a.k.a COP15. Held in Montreal, Canada over the next 12 days – after having been delayed four times since its originally scheduled 2020 date – the conference promises to hold critical discussions as nations set out targets to protect biodiversity for the next decade.
The aim of COP15 (and the Conventions on Biological Diversity in general) is to conserve the natural world as best as we can and ensure the continued survival of essential ecosystems, including those that underpin human civilisation. As the head of UN biodiversity, Elizabeth Mrema, asserts: “Clearly the world is crying out for change, watching as governments seek to heal our relationships with nature.”
The theme for the conference is: “Ecological Civilization: Building a Shared Future for All Life on Earth”, and in the spirit of protecting all life on the planet, we are taking a look at some of the smallest creatures among us: insects.
There are around 1.05 million species of insects across the globe, but a third are endangered, and we are facing what some term an “insect apocalypse”. Around 75 per cent of our crops rely on pollinators to grow, and if insects disappeared completely, all the world’s ecosystems would be in serious trouble. So regardless of your personal feelings on creepy crawlies, insects need to stick around.
Fortunately, this year we have seen an increasing number of innovators turning their attention to insects and finding creative ways to protect them. As we enter the first day of COP15 and discussions on biological diversity begin, here are five exciting innovations from 2022 to bear in mind.
Honey might be delicious, but its impact on the environment is less appealing. Even the smallest of commercial honey operations can put a strain on wild bee populations that are already dwindling. Honeybees do an excellent job at thriving in any ecosystem, but they often monopolise flowers. This means that bees struggle to compete for pollen, and the more honey farms there are, the more that excessive numbers of honeybees will threaten the natural biodiversity of an area.
The California-based startup MeliBio has unveiled its 100 per cent bee-free honey that shares the same taste and texture as the bee-reliant alternative, but is completely plant-based and vegan, eliminating the need for honeybee farms.
Putting honeybees in environments without enough floral resources can have an adverse impact on other bee populations, but because they are so essential to our crops – performing 80 per cent of global pollination – they are sometimes prioritised. The honeybee, after all, is also facing endangerment.
Created by Iris Technologies, a company based in Tunisia, the new SmartBee and SmartBee+ devices promise to make it easier for beekeepers to track and optimise the health of their honeybees. Not only does the SmartBee+ monitor temperature and humidity to allow keepers to change conditions quickly if they reach dangerous levels – it also tracks the bees’ movements and foraging patterns. The technology identifies any potential complications early so that users can rectify them and keep their honeybees in better health. Read more
You wouldn’t necessarily assume that an innovation tackling the effects of sound pollution could also help out insect populations at the same time, but that’s exactly what Naturawall has created.
The company has designed nature-friendly walls made from steel blocks and covered in plants, which block sound and use up less material than traditional concrete blocks. By incorporating native plants, the walls also provide a habitat for birds, lizards, and insects.
Rapid urbanisation is a big contributor to changing biodiversity across the globe, but with innovations like Naturawall, cities can start to re-encourage insects back into suitable habitats and protect them from further endangerment. Read more
Back to bees. With the potential decline of these creatures threatening food supply chains across the globe, Israeli company Beewise is looking for a more effective way to protect them.
The company’s solution – BeeHome – is a completely autonomous and solar-powered ‘hive’ that can be controlled and monitored from afar, automatically dispensing sugar, water, medicine, and extract honey.
Using AI, the BeeHome can identify when a colony is about to swarm and automatically adjusts conditions to prevent it, by optimising temperature and humidity. The technology also senses parasites and can apply the appropriate pesticides before a colony becomes infected.
The automated system makes looking after bees more efficient as it can respond in real-time, therefore radically reducing the mortality rate of a hive. Read more
Although pesticides are normally considered essential for farming to protect crops from pests and diseases, excessive use and misuse contaminates surrounding soil and threatens neighbouring populations of beneficial insects who help to control pests. This causes a loss of biodiversity and compromises the nutritional value of food.
One company working to modify the unnecessary usage of pesticides is Solinftec, who has created the new Solix Sprayer robot. This solar-powered robot spot-sprays crops only where it is needed to get rid of weeds, reducing the likelihood that other insects will be affected.
The Solix Sprayer also identifies the insects living in the field, allowing farmers to better understand and protect biodiversity on their own soil. Read more
Written By: Matilda Cox
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7th December 2022