Common Pesticides Stealing Bees’ Survival Skills, Study Finds

Widely used pesticides known as neonicotinoids hurt a bee's ability to forage for pollen as well as impact which flowers bees visit, study finds

July 8, 2014 | Source: The Star | by Raveena Aulakh

For related articles and information, please visit OCA’s Honey Bee Health page.

Some bumblebees are not as busy as they could be, and a group of widely used pesticides known as neonicotinoids are to blame, a study published Tuesday suggests.

Bumblebees were fitted with tiny radio frequency tags for the study, which showed that long-term exposure to neonicotinoid pesticides debilitated a bee’s ability to forage for pollen, and even impacted which flowers the worker bees chose to visit.

This is important because “bees have to learn many things about their environment, including how to collect pollen from flowers,” said Nigel Raine, co-author of the study and a University of Guelph scientist.

Exposure to neonicotinoid pesticides seems to be preventing bees from being able to learn these essential skills, he said.

Richard Gill of Imperial College London was the other author of the study, published in the British Ecological Society’s journal

Functional Ecology.

Neonicotinoid pesticides – the controversial insecticides that act on the nervous system and are lathered on corn and soy – have been in the news for months, and have been linked to unusually high honey bee deaths in Canada for the past two years.

The bee population has dropped by almost 35 per cent in recent years.

Bee farmers and environmentalists have been calling for a ban on these pesticides.

On Monday, Ontario announced that it is looking at restricting the use of neonicotinoids, requiring farmers and other commercial growers to apply for permits.

Raine said it is important to recognize that pesticide use may have different impacts on different bees. “Bumblebees may be much more sensitive to pesticide impacts as their colonies contain a few hundred workers at most, compared to tens of thousands in a honey bee colony,” he said.

The researchers fitted hundreds of bees with the tags in 2011 and monitored the movement of 260 for a month – when they left and returned to their colonies, how much pollen they collected, and from which flowers.