Due to the close relationship between honey bees and their surroundings, and because of recent increases in colony mortality in many regions of the world (Carreck and Neumann, 2010; Williams et al., 2010), there is an urgent need to better understand how environmental changes affect habitat, life patterns, and the overall health of honey bees. This type of research can be facilitated through the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), which can briefly be described as a software system for handling and analysing map data through the use of coordinate systems and georeferenced information to aid in the analysis of spatial patterns that may exist between entities on the Earth’s surface (Burrough and McDonnell, 1998). Because of its broad application, GIS methods are used in a diverse array of disciplines, including geoscience (Bonham-Carter, 1994), economics (Pogodzinski and Kos, 2012), and biology (Kozak et al., 2008). For example, GIS has been used extensively to undertake spatial analyses of the effects of land-use and climate change on declines of native bee abundance and health (Arthur et al., 2010; Biesmeijer et al., 2006; Chifflet et al., 2011; Choi et al., 2012; Fitzpatrick et al., 2007; Giannini et al., 2012; Kremen, 2002; Kremen et al., 2004; Watson et al., 2011; Williams et al., 2012).
Through the use of spatial analyses, researchers using GIS were able to determine that native bees were more efficient crop pollinators when access to nearby forests was provided (Arthur et al., 2010; Kremen et al., 2004; Watson et al., 2011). Additionally, relationships between climate and native bee species richness and abundance have been identified using GIS modelling procedures (Giannini et al., 2012). For honey bees, GIS analyses have been incorporated into relatively few research initiatives (Berardinelli and Vedova, 2004; Naug, 2009; Henry et al., 2012). With this paper, we aim to stimulate spatial thinking processes and thus the future use of GIS analyses to better understand the relationships between environmental characteristics and honey bee health and abundance for a broader geographic overview of the mechanisms affecting their plight (Naug, 2009). In this paper, we introduce the framework and some important basic concepts of GIS, and provide detailed instructions about using the GIS softwares ArcGIS and Quantum GIS (QGIS) for the geospatial study of honey bees. We hope that the knowledge gained from this paper will further the field of honey bee science, but also promote the use of GIS in other fields of study.