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Evaluation of off-the-shelf technologies for their potential to track Asian Hornets (Vespa velutina) - PH0532

The Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) was recorded for the first time in the UK on 20 Sep 2016 (Defra Press Release). This non-native species is a voracious predator of honeybees and other Hymenoptera (>50% diet), and has been spreading through Europe since at least 2004. It is on the EU risk assessment list for invasive alien species, and has caused significant recorded damage to honeybee colonies and is considered a key threat to bees and pollination service they provide.
There is an urgent need to identify whether the latest animal tracking technology systems can be used to track hornets back to their nests. If individual hornets can be tracked to their nests, this allows those nests to be sampled (to establish how much of a threat they are to wild pollinators) and destroyed to postpone or reduce the rate of spread through the UK. We propose to test two animal tracking systems for this purpose, comparing radio telemetry and radar technology. This will require optimisation of the tag design to attach to the hornets, documentation of environmental constraints under which the systems will work, and field testing the technology in France where Asian hornets have established.
Prof Osborne’s team at the University of Exeter is one of the leading groups in tracking social insects: having used harmonic radar to track bees and butterflies over 20 years. This project therefore matches the expertise to the need for new technology to protect UK Hymenoptera communities from this invasive non-native predator.
The overall aim is to test whether off-the-shelf insect tracking technology can be used to track Asian hornets in the wild, flying from forage sites to their nests, and thus aid nest detection. We have the following objectives:

1) Interview key Asian hornet scientists in Europe to review latest methods that have been evaluated for finding nests
2) Test effectiveness of Biotrack & RECCO tracking technologies in a range of habitats and environments likely to be suitable for Asian hornet nesting.
3) Optimise Biotrack PicoPip tag (antennal length, orientation, attachment method) for use on ~200mg flying insect
4) Optimise RECCO radar tag (antennal length, orientation, attachment method) for use on ~200mg flying insect
5) Test optimised tags on hornets (or surrogate insects) in confined conditions to confirm that insects behave and fly as expected.
6) Field test the most promising technology (Biotrack or RECCO or both) on free-flying Asian hornets in France. Test whether they can detect return flights to nests.
7) Design protocol for using technology to find nests in future, documenting constraints (e.g. environment, range, battery life), and write an instruction manual.
8) Write final report

Obj 5-6 depend on success of Obj 1-4. If it is not possible to optimise either set of tags for the environments required with reasonable range of detection, then alternative technologies may need consideration.
Obj 7 depends on success of Obj 6.
Obj 8 will take place to review knowledge gained during the project, whether or not tracking has been successful.
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2017

To: 2018

Cost: £74,358
Contractor / Funded Organisations
University of Exeter
Alien Species              
Bee Pests              
Fields of Study
Plant Health