Saving our little pollinators is the ‘bees’ knees’
by Erin Lawson
In my cupboard, I have a little jar of ‘connoisseur’ honey.
I won’t lie, I bought it because the packaging was covered in simplistic line-drawings of Australian native flora, in muted grey colours against a parchment-style paper backdrop, and I was feeling a little bit patriotic.
The glass jar was a bonus, too – an emblem of my desire to be part of the solution rather than the Big Plastic Problem.
But, I also looked forward to the taste. The honey industry, aside from the regular ‘mixed’ honey that adorns the shelves and cereals of many an Aussie household, has a bespoke side that makes up a large portion of its market. And it focuses specifically on the ways in which the different foods of the bees can dictate the flavour of the honey we eat.
Not only can I now feel like I’m saving my little corner of the planet, but I can also feel like a connoisseur. It’s not quite as satisfying as swilling wine, but as I drizzled my fancy honey onto my fancy cheese, I felt as if I was engaging in something at least a little bit intimate, personalised and unique. It turns out that that feeling wasn’t entirely incorrect.
Nor is the only purpose of honey’s ability to capture the ambience of a specific time and place a tasty accompaniment to my fancy Melbourne cheese.
Just like ice core samples, honey has the ability to trap a sample of the chemical conditions present as it was created. Instead of being frozen in time, this signature is preserved in the sweet, golden liquid we pour on our cereal and spread on our toast every day.
PhD candidate Kate Smith, from the University of British Columbia’s Pacific Centre for Isotopic and Geochemical Research, is detailing the useful, and cost effective, possibilities of turning bees into our very own tiny scientists.
Instead of acting as an overall encapsulate of the global atmospheric chemical signature at a given time, like ice core samples, honey provides scientists with a potential way of tracking down the source of specific types of chemicals.
One postulate of Smith’s paper focuses on monitoring certain isotopes of lead.
By comparing samples of honey collected by bees in over six regions of Vancouver, Smith and her team were able to identify the likely source of higher amounts of lead isotopes in some of those regions by relating those to geological records in the same area.
If you weren’t motivated to help Save the Bees before, perhaps you should imagine them in the tiny lab coats they’ve clearly earned.