Researchers at Grand Valley State University are studying honeybees across the country to understand why the population is declining. Their study has earned them a $200,000 grant.

The project is funded by a portion of a $2.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The four-year, $200,000 study at Grand Valley, led by Jonathan Engelsma, professor of computing, will focus on collecting data from honeybee colonies using a variety of techniques and tools, including a website developed by Engelsma and a team of students that tracks activity of bees.

"About a third of what we eat is dependent on honeybees," said Engelsma. "Honeybees pollinate much of the food in our diet, but the honeybee population has been declining for a number of years. This research seeks to understand why and find solutions."

The website come from a project that began in 2012. The site keeps information captured by electronic scales that are installed underneath more than 150 live honeybee colonies across the country, including one in Hawaii and two at Grand Valley. The scales capture weight, humidity and temperature about every 15 minutes.

"Every morning when the sun warms a hive, we'll see the weight drop about four pounds as bees leave to find nectar and pollen. Around mid-day, we see the weight increase as bees bring nectar and pollen loads back to the hive. Observing weight increases and decreases can reveal a lot of information about a hive; it's healthy for a colony to gain weight, not lose it," said Engelsma.

Anyone can participate in the study, including commercial beekeepers, hobby beekeepers and researchers. Engelsma, a hobby beekeeper who manages hives at various locations in West Michigan, hopes to eventually have scales operating in each county in the U.S.

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