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BEES.TED.COM

Bees can remember human faces — and 7 other surprising facts about these important insects

Mar 12, 2021 / Meghan Miner Murray

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Most people know bees for two things: their sweetness (in the form of honey) or their stings. But they’re so much more than that. Honeybees, for example, live in highly structured social groups where each bee has a role to play. Some bees are solitary and can chew holes in wood. Others can be blue or white or green. In fact, there are more than 20,000 species of bees worldwide.

Importantly for humans, bees are crucial to our planetary health and survival — as pollinators, they are responsible for about a third of the food we eat. Yet bee populations worldwide are declining, largely due to climate change. Carbon emissions are resulting in temperature extremes that are causing habitat loss, a rise in parasitic mites and predators that thrive in warmer temperatures, and increased pesticide use to deal with these new pests. All of these factors impact bees in both big ways (colony collapse disorder) and small (shifting winds make bees less efficient). 

Here are 8 surprising facts you didn’t know about these amazing insects, and how you can help protect them.

Bees put the honey in honeymoon 

There may be more than 20,000 bee species, but only members of the genus Apis (11 known species) make honey. We may owe bees — and ancient Norse drinking habits — for the term “honeymoon.” The syrupy sweetener was an ingredient in the earliest known alcoholic beverages, including mead, a fermented honey drink. Mead played an important role in Nordic marriage rites as early as the 5th century. It’s believed that it was a tradition for newlywed couples to consume copious amounts of mead during the first full moon cycle, or month, of marriage. The practice is one of several proposed origins of the honeymoon’s etymology. 

Some bee species defend their hives with giant balls of heat

Like all insects, bees are cold-blooded, which means their body temperature is typically similar to their surrounding environment. But within the hive, where the developing brood lives, bees maintain a steady temperature of around 92-93 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Using their wings, bees can fan hot air out of the hive to cool an area or vibrate their flight muscles to heat it. 

As a changing climate brings new predators their way, some bee species have taken their thermoregulation abilities to the next level. Scientists have observed Japanese honeybees pounce on the hive-invading, bee-eating Asian giant hornets (also known as murder hornets) that cross their threshold. Together they create a giant ball around the hornet and use the same hive-heating techniques to cook the invader alive

Bees help farmers grow better food and keep food prices down 

Bees are highly efficient pollinators and are essential to plant diversity. When bees are employed to pollinate crops such as avocados, blueberries and cucumbers, fruit yields and weight increase dramatically compared to crops grown in the absence of bees or other pollinators. But climate change could threaten our food systems. 

As weather patterns continue to shift, many animal species will move to more ideal climate conditions when their previous habitats become less favorable. But experts fear that bees aren’t adapting to shifting temperatures like some other species, which could lead to rapid population decline. In some areas, flowers are also starting to bloom earlier with warming temperatures, and it’s unclear how bees will adapt to these seasonal changes. This could spell big trouble for both wild and farmed crops. “With the declining numbers of bees, the cost of over 130 fruit and vegetable plants that we rely on for food is going up in price,” says Noah Wilson-Rich, biologist and CEO of Best Bees, in his TEDxBoston Talk. 

There are bees that can age backwards — really 

Some honeybees have the remarkable ability to age in reverse. When there’s a lack of young worker bees, older bees can revert to their more energetic, younger selves to take on the task. In fact, these bees end up living longer to pick up the slack. This incredible phenomenon is currently under investigation by researchers to better understand the underlying mechanisms and potential applications for age-related dementia in humans. 

Scientists use bees to study serial killers 

Criminologists developed a statistical technique called geographic profiling (GP) in order to study repeat-offense crimes, like serial killings and burglaries. Based on the locations of the crimes, police can make educated guesses about where a suspect might live or visit regularly. That’s because in general, repeat offenders avoid committing crimes close to where they live so they can avoid detection — but they remain close enough to home for convenience. It turns out bees’ feeding patterns are similar. 

Bees avoid detection by predators and parasites by creating a distraction zone — they leave flowers closest to their nest entrance untouched and feed further away from the hive. In 2008, a team of researchers observed bees visiting different flowers, and attempted to locate their hive based on existing GP techniques. They found that bees’ foraging patterns were as reliable and predictable as humans. Criminology experts can now use insights from bee patterns to refine geographic profiling methods.

Honeybees live according to a strict hierarchy 

There are three types of honeybees: queens, workers and drones. There’s only one queen, and she’s typically the largest and longest-living individual within a hive. Worker bees are all female and the only bees with stingers. When a bee stings, it dies, leaving behind a banana-like scent that warns the other worker bees of danger. And while workers are genetically identical to the queen, only the crown can lay eggs. In fact, queen bees can release over 1,000 eggs each day for years. These eggs are fertilized with sperm from dozens of male drones whose only function is to fertilize the queen during a once-in-a-lifetime mating flight (the drones die after mating.) 

Bees can remember human faces 

Bees may have brains the size of poppy seeds, but they’re able to pick out individual features on human faces and recognize them during repeat interactions. In one study, scientists paired images of human faces with sugar-laced water and found that bees recognized and remembered faces associated with the sweet reward — even when the reward was absent. This keen perception not only helps these highly social creatures recognize each other, but it also helps them recognize and return to flowers that produce more pollen.

It’s not too late to save bees — and YOU can help 

Fortunately, you can take action to help bees where you live. With just a smartphone and a willingness to learn, you can contribute to various citizen science projects. A citizen science effort in Michigan, for example, helped researchers discover that special ground-dwelling bees that pollinate squash and pumpkin fare better on farms where the soil is not trampled or tilled — this finding has real implications for our food systems. Other ongoing programs help researchers collect baseline data on wild bee populations, including North America-based BeeBlitzes, the University of Illinois’ BeeSpotter, Australia’s Wild Pollinator Count and Canada’s Bumble Bee Watch.   

Your own backyard is another place to start. Plant more wildflowers, don’t use pesticides that harm bees and apply them before flowering begins. If you live in the city, set up or join a community rooftop garden. Interestingly, bees can have higher survival rates and produce more honey in the city compared to the crop-dotted countryside, Wilson-Rich says. And, if you want to really get in on the buzz, consider keeping your own honeybee hive — you’ll bolster your local bee population and reap some sweet rewards.

Watch Noah Wilson-Rich’s TEDxBoston Talk: 

About the author

Meghan Miner Murray is a freelance science and travel writer based in Kona, Hawaii. She once was rescued from a sinking ship in the North Atlantic. Read more about her and her work at meghanminermurray.com.

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From PestNet

FEBRUARY 17, 2021

Neonicotinoid pesticide residues found in Irish honey

by Thomas Deane, Trinity College Dublin

honey
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Researchers from Trinity and Dublin City University found that Irish honey contained residues of neonicotinoid insecticides.

Neonicotinoids are the most widely used group of insecticides globally, used in plant protection products to control harmful insects.

Neonicotinoids are systemic pesticides. Unlike contact pesticides, which remain on the surface of the treated parts of plants (e.g. leaves), systemic pesticides are taken up by the plant and transported throughout its leaves, flowers, roots and stems, as well as incorporated into pollen and nectar.

In the European Union, their use is now restricted due to concerns about risks to bees and other non-target organisms. At the time of sampling for this study, their use was still approved in Ireland for certain agricultural crops.

Key findings

  • Of 30 honey samples tested, 70% contained at least one neonicotinoid compound
  • Almost half (48%) the samples contained at least two neonicotinoids
  • Exposure to pesticides does not just occur in agricultural settings
  • This research for the first time has identified the presence of clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiacloprid in Irish honey from a range of hive sites across a range of land use types
  • The proportion and concentration of neonicotinoids in honeys from both agricultural and urban habitats, compared with semi-natural or other land covers, suggests that exposure of bees to neonicotinoids can potentially occur in a variety of environments

Residue levels were below the admissible limits for human consumption according to current EU regulations, and thus pose no risk to human health.

However, the average concentration of one compound (imidacloprid) was higher than concentrations that have been shown in other studies to induce negative effects on honey and bumble bees.

Dr. Saorla Kavanagh, lead author on the study, currently working at the National Biodiversity Data Centre, said: “Given that these compounds have been shown to have adverse effects on honey bees, wild bees, and other organisms, their detection in honey is of concern, and potential contamination routes should be explored further.”

Professor Jane Stout, from Trinity’s School of Natural Sciences, said: “These results suggest that bees and other beneficial insects are at risk of exposure to contaminants in their food across a range of managed habitats—not just in agricultural settings. And even though we found residues at low concentrations, prolonged exposure to sublethal levels of toxins can cause effects that are still not fully understood by scientists or regulators. Therefore, we shouldn’t relax restrictions on their use.”

Dr. Blánaid White, DCU, said: “Our findings are consistent with others from outside Ireland, and neonicotinoids unfortunately seem to be ubiquitous in honeys worldwide. It’s reassuring that residues do not exceed safe levels, but it is an important warning that neonicotinoids should not be reintroduced into Irish environments, as they could potentially cause health or environmental concerns.”


Explore furtherOn balance, some neonicotinoid pesticides could benefit bees: study


Provided by Trinity College Dublin

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ARS News Service ARS News Service Centipedegrass
Inflorescences (flowers) of centipedegrass. The purple anthers, shown here, contain the pollen that is collected by bees. Photo credit: Dr. Shimat Joseph, University of Georgia. Grass Flowers are Something to Buzz About For media inquiries contact: Janice López-Muñoz, (301) 793-7007 Turfgrasses sometimes get a “bad rap” for not giving our bees and other insect pollinators a helping hand on the food front. But Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and University of Georgia (UGA) studies suggest this reputation is unfair—and at least five different genera of bees would agree! In the world, 70 percent of the main crops used for human consumption are dependent on bees and other pollinators. Yet, worldwide, pollinators have been in decline for the last several decades. Turfgrasses are often blamed for the decline and it is often stated that turfgrasses are wind-pollinated, and thus useless for pollinators. The team’s findings, published in the November issue of Insects, provided evidence to the contrary. “This is vital research as we aim to protect the natural environment of pollinators that are the foundation of our food supply,” said Karen Harris-Shultz, a research geneticist at the ARS Crop Genetics and Breeding Research Laboratory in Tifton, Georgia. “This new knowledge sets the baseline for future research to show that turfgrasses can serve as a food source for pollinators.” Centipedegrass is a popular turfgrass found mainly in the southeastern part of the United States and is known for its heat tolerance and low maintenance, making it a favorite among homeowners and landscapers but prior research had suggested that it is of little use to pollinators. However, for many years Harris-Shultz had noticed bumblebees and honeybees collecting pollen from the flowers of centipedegrass lawns. She mentioned this to UGA entomologist Shimat Joseph and UGA physiologist David Jespersen. They decided to start research projects to identify pollinators that pass through centipedegrass lawns and differentiate them from insects that directly collect pollen from centipedegrass flowers. To identify the types of pollinators foraging on the grass flowers, the researchers collected specimens from 11 centipedegrass lawns starting mid-August to the end of September. Using sweep nets, they homed in on insects that were foraging pollen from centipedegrass and were later identified in the lab by Joseph. Their specimens included bumble bees, honeybees, sweat bees and hoverflies. “Our collaboration with the University of Georgia has been exceedingly fruitful,” said Harris-Shultz. “We have challenged commonly held scientific beliefs and found that a turfgrass serves as a food source for five genera of bees. We suspect other turfgrasses may serve as a food source for pollinators as well.” Now that it is known that pollinators are transiting in centipede lawns, homeowners can play an important role in helping out the insects by adopting new lawn-management practices, such as changing how often they mow. This will allow the flowers to emerge from the grass and prevent them from producing seed as quickly. Homeowners can also reduce or change their selection of insecticides to limit the pollinators’ exposure to chemicals. The Agricultural Research Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific in-house research agency. Daily, ARS focuses on solutions to agricultural problems affecting America. Each dollar invested in agricultural research results in $17 of economic impact.
Interested in reading more about ARS research? Visit our news archive U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Agricultural Research Service

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ScienceNews

Bubble-blowing drones may one day aid artificial pollination

Flying machines could step in when bees and other insects are scarce, researchers say

drone pollinating flower with bubbles
Drones that blow bubbles to delicately deliver pollen to flowers (a peach-leaved bellflower, pictured) could help make up for dwindling populations of natural pollinators, like bees, researchers say. E. Miyako

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By Maria Temming

June 22, 2020 at 10:15 am

Drones that blow pollen-laden bubbles onto blossoms could someday help farmers pollinate their crops.

Rather than relying on bees and other pollinating insects — which are dwindling worldwide as a result of climate change (SN: 7/9/15), pesticide use (SN: 10/5/17) and other factors — farmers can spray or swab pollen onto crops themselves. But machine-blown plumes can waste many grains of pollen, and manually brushing pollen onto plants is labor-intensive.

Materials chemist Eijiro Miyako of the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Nomi imagines outsourcing pollination to automatous drones that deliver pollen grains to individual flowers. His original idea involved a pollen-coated drone rubbing grains onto flowers, but that treatment damaged the blossoms (SN: 3/7/17). Then, while blowing bubbles with his son, Miyako realized that bubbles might be a gentler means of delivery. 

To that end, Miyako and his colleague Xi Yang, an environmental scientist also at JAIST, devised a pollen-containing solution that a drone toting a bubble gun could blow onto crops. To test the viability of their pollen-loaded bubbles, the researchers used this technique to pollinate by hand pear trees in an orchard. Those trees bore about as much fruit as trees pollinated using a traditional method of hand pollination, the researchers report online June 17 in iScience.

Among various commercially available bubble solutions, Miyako and Yang found that pollen grains remained most healthy and viable in one made with lauramidopropyl betaine — a chemical used in cosmetics and personal care products. Using that solution as their base, the researchers added pollen-protecting ingredients, like calcium and potassium, along with a polymer to make the bubbles sturdy enough to withstand winds generated by drone propellers.

The researchers blew pollen bubbles at flowers on three pear trees in an orchard. On average, 95 percent of the 50 pollinated blossoms on each tree formed fruits. That was comparable to another set of three similar trees pollinated by hand with a standard pollen brush. Only about 58 percent of flowers on three trees that relied on insects and wind to deliver pollen bore fruit.

To test the feasibility of applying this bubble treatment with flying robots, Miyako and Yang armed a drone with a bubble gun and blew pollen bubbles at fake lilies while flying by at two meters per second. More than 90 percent of the lilies were hit with bubbles, but many more bubbles missed the blooms. Making drone pollination practical would require flying robots that can recognize flowers and deftly target specific blossoms, the researchers say.

Not everyone is convinced that building robotic pollinators is a good idea. Simon Potts, a sustainable land management researcher at the University of Reading in England, sees this technology as a “piece of smart engineering being shoehorned to solve a problem which can be solved in … more effective and sustainable ways.”

In 2018, Potts and colleagues published a study in Science of the Total Environment, arguing that protecting natural pollinators is a better way to safeguard plant pollination than building robotic bees. Insects, the researchers noted, are more adept pollinators than any machine and don’t disrupt existing ecosystems. Miyako and Yang say their bubble solution was biocompatible, but Potts worries that dousing flowers in human-made substances could dissuade insects from visiting those trees.  

Roboticist Yu Gu of West Virginia University in Morgantown, who designs robotic pollinators but was not involved in the new work, says that building robotic bees and supporting insect populations are not mutually exclusive. “We’re not hoping to take over for bees, or any other natural pollinator,” he says. “What we’re trying to do is complement them.” Where there is a shortage of winged workers to pollinate crops, farmers could one day use robots “as a Plan B,” he says. No pun intended.

Questions or comments on this article? E-mail us at feedback@sciencenews.org

Citations

X. Yang and E. Miyako. Soap bubble pollination. iScience. Published online June 17, 2020. doi: 10.1016/j.isci.2020.101188.

S.G. Potts et al. Robotic bees for crop pollination: Why drones cannot replace biodiversity. Science of the Total Environment. Vol. 642, November 15, 2018, p. 665. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.06.114.

Maria Temming

About Maria Temming

Maria Temming is the staff reporter for physical sciences, covering everything from chemistry to computer science and cosmology. She has bachelor’s degrees in physics and English, and a master’s in science writing.

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TheScientist

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Researchers Try to Head Off “Murder Hornets” Coming into US

Asian giant hornets were found for the first time in Washington State and could reemerge in the spring.

Shawna Williams

Shawna Williams
May 4, 2020

ABOVE: © ISTOCK.COM, KAGENMI

Members of the species Vespa mandarinia, a hornet infamous for wiping out whole colonies of honey bees and delivering painful and sometimes deadly stings to humans, have been spotted in the United States for the first time, The New York Times reports. Two dead “murder hornets” found in Washington State late last year have sparked a hunt for colonies, which researchers hope to eradicate before the species can establish a firm foothold in the area.

“This is our window to keep it from establishing,” Chris Looney, an entomologist at the Washington State Department of Agriculture, tells the Times. “If we can’t do it in the next couple of years, it probably can’t be done.”

As its name suggests, the Asian giant hornet is native to Asia; it is the largest hornet species in the world, with queens growing to about two inches long. When they invade a honey bee hive, they decapitate the bees and take their thoraxes back to their own nest to feed their young, quickly wiping out the bee colony. While Japanese honey bees have defenses against this predation, including surrounding a hornet and vibrating their bodies to produce heat that kills the invader, honey bee species in the US have no effective way to fend them off. “They’re sitting bees—or sitting ducks,” Looney said in a presentation delivered in February.

See “War Dance of the Honeybee

“It’s a shockingly large hornet,” says Todd Murray, an entomologist and invasive species specialist at Washington State University (WSU), in an article in a campus publication. “It’s a health hazard, and more importantly, a significant predator of honey bees.” The hornets don’t often sting people, but when they do, their stings are venomous and uncommonly painful, the Times notes. The stingers can penetrate protective beekeeper suits.

In addition to the sightings in northwest Washington, Asian giant hornets have been found across the border in southwest British Columbia, including a colony that was eradicated on Vancouver Island last September. In his presentation, Looney notes it’s not known how the insects reached North America, but that the most likely scenario is that queens stowed away on ships.

According to the WSU article, the hornets were likely to have grown active again in April as queens emerge from hibernation. University researchers are urging people in the area to learn how to identify the insects and to report any sightings.

Keywords:

agriculture
agroecology
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ecology & environment
honey bees
honeybee
insect
insect behavior
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varroa mite on beeVarroa mite on honey bee

ARS Scientist Leads $1 Million Funded Consortium to Seek Honey Bee Disease Controls

By Kim Kaplan
March 13, 2018

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) entomologist Steven Cook will be leading a $1 million funded international consortium of scientists to seek new controls for Varroa mites, honey bees’ number one problem.

Cook, with the Bee Research Laboratory, a part of ARS’s Beltsville (Maryland) Agricultural Research Center, will be the principal investigator of a group that will include scientists from the United States, Canada and Spain. ARS is the in-house research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The researchers will be screening a variety of chemical compounds for their ability to control Varroa mites with minimal damage to honey bees on an individual and colony level. Laboratory and field studies will be conducted at facilities in Alabama, Georgia, Maryland and Ohio, as well as in Alberta, Canada.

In laboratories in Nebraska and Spain, scientists also will be using advanced methods to work out an understanding of the molecular mechanisms by which Varroa mites develop resistance to various chemical controls.

Improving knowledge of such mechanisms would provide a better guide to researchers and narrow the field in the future for selecting chemicals worth screening as new control agents for Varroa mites.

The largest single grant for this project is an award of $475,559 to Cook from the Pollinator Health Fund established by the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) in response to the agricultural threat posed by declining pollinator health. Other funding is coming from participating universities, Project Apis m. and in-kind support from a number of regional beekeepers.

The Honey Bee Health Coalition, a diverse network of key groups dedicated to improving the health of honey bees and other pollinators, also will provide their expertise to facilitate the researchers’ efforts.

Insect pollinators contribute an estimated $24 billion to the U.S. economy annually, according to FFAR. Honey bees specifically pollinate about 100 crops in the United States. Varroa mites have become resistant to many commercially available chemical control agents in recent years.

The Agricultural Research Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific in-house research agency. Daily, ARS focuses on solutions to agricultural problems affecting America. Each dollar invested in agricultural research results in $20 of economic impact.

 

 

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Guardian

Total ban on bee-harming pesticides likely after major new EU analysis

Analysis from EU’s scientific risk assessors finds neonicotinoids pose a serious danger to all bees, making total field ban highly likely

Neonicotinoids, which are nerve agents, have been shown to cause a wide range of harm to bees.
Neonicotinoids, which are nerve agents, have been shown to cause a wide range of harm to bees. Photograph: Odd Andersen/AP

The world’s most widely used insecticides pose a serious danger to both honeybees and wild bees, according to a major new assessment from the European Union’s scientific risk assessors.

The conclusion, based on analysis of more than 1,500 studies, makes it highly likely that the neonicotinoid pesticides will be banned from all fields across the EU when nations vote on the issue next month.

The report from the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa), published on Wednesday, found that the risk to bees varied depending on the crop and exposure route, but that “for all the outdoor uses, there was at least one aspect of the assessment indicating a high risk.” Neonicotinoids, which are nerve agents, have been shown to cause a wide range of harm to bees, such as damaging memory and reducing queen numbers.

Jose Tarazona, head of Efsa’s pesticides unit, said: “The availability of such a substantial amount of data has enabled us to produce very detailed conclusions. There is variability in the conclusions [and] some low risks have been identified, but overall the risk to the three types of bees we have assessed is confirmed.”

The Efsa assessment includes bumblebees and solitary bees for the first time. It also identified that high risk to bees comes not from neonicotinoid use on non-flowering crops such as wheat, but from wider contamination of the soil and water which leads to the pesticides appearing in wildflowers or succeeding crops. A recent study of honey samples revealed global contamination by neonicotinoids.

The assessment was welcomed by many scientists and environmentalists. “This is an important announcement that most uses of neonicotinoids are a risk to all bee species,” said Prof Christopher Connolly, at the University of Dundee, UK. “The greatest risk to bees is from chronic exposure due to its persistence.” Prof Dave Goulson, at the University of Sussex, said: “This report certainly strengthens the case for further restrictions on neonicotinoid use across Europe”.

“We have been playing Russian roulette with the future of our bees for far too long,” said Sandra Bell at Friends of the Earth. “EU countries must now back a tougher ban.” Several nations had been waiting for the Efsa report before deciding their position.

However, a spokesman for Syngenta, a neonicotinoid manufacturer, said: “Efsa sadly continues to rely on a [bee risk guidance] document that is overly conservative, extremely impractical and would lead to a ban of most if not all insecticides, including organic products.”

Matt Shardlow, at charity Buglife, said the risk guidance document should be urgently implemented to prevent another pesticide “blunder”. He said: “It is a tragedy that our bees, moths, butterflies and flies have been hammered by these toxins for over 15 years.”

In March 2017, the Guardian revealed draft regulations from the European commission which would ban neonicotinoids from all fields across Europe, citing “high acute risks to bees”. The chemicals could still be used in closed greenhouses.

Efsa’s first assessment in January 2013 found “unacceptable” risks to bees from neonicotinoids and paved the way for the partial EU ban which was passed in April 2013. It banned the use of the three main neonicotinoids on flowering crops, principally oilseed rape, as they were seen as most attractive to bees.

Bees and other insects are vital for global food production as they pollinate three-quarters of all crops. The plummeting numbers of pollinators in recent years has been blamed on disease, destruction of flower-rich habitat and, increasingly, the widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides.

There has been strong evidence that neonicotinoids harm individual bees for some years but this has strengthened in the last year recently to show damage to colonies of bees. Other research has also revealed that 75% of all flying insects have disappeared in Germany and probably much further afield, prompting warnings of “ecological armageddon”.

In November, environment secretary Michael Gove overturned the UK’s previous opposition to tougher restrictions on neonicotinoids. “The weight of evidence now shows the risks neonicotinoids pose to our environment, particularly to the bees and other pollinators which play such a key part in our £100bn food industry, is greater than previously understood,” Gove told the Guardian. “I believe this justifies further restrictions on their use. We cannot afford to put our pollinator populations at risk.”

The environment department’s chief scientist, Prof Ian Boyd, warned in September that the assumption by regulators around the world that it is safe to use pesticides at industrial scales across landscapes is false. This followed other highly critical reports on pesticides, including research showing most farmers could slash their pesticide use without losses and a UN report that denounced the “myth” that pesticides are necessary to feed the world.

The world’s most widely used insecticides pose a serious danger to both honeybees and wild bees, according to a major new assessment from the European Union’s scientific risk assessors.

The conclusion, based on analysis of more than 1,500 studies, makes it highly likely that the neonicotinoid pesticides will be banned from all fields across the EU when nations vote on the issue next month.

 

 

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Fungicides may have negative impact on bees

Cornell-led team studies “landscape-scale” connections.

Nov 16, 2017

New research by a Cornell-led team of scientists show fungicides – particularly chlorothalonil, a general-use fungicide often found in bumblebee and honeybee hives – may negatively affect bee health, according to Scott McArt, assistant professor of entomology and the lead author of a new study, “Landscape Predictors of Pathogen Prevalence and Range Contractions in United States Bumblebees,” published Nov. 15 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“Fungicides have been largely overlooked because they are not targeted for insects, but fungicides may not be quite as benign – toward bumblebees – as we once thought. This surprised us,” said McArt, a fellow at Cornell’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future.

 Building on a large data set collected by Sydney Cameron, professor of entomology at the University of Illinois, the scientists discovered what they call “landscape-scale” connections between fungicide usage, pathogen prevalence and declines of endangered United States bumblebees.

 

While fungicides control plant pathogens in crops, the bees pick up their residue when foraging for pollen and nectar. As farms use both insecticides and fungicides, the scientists worry about synergy. “While most fungicides are relatively nontoxic to bees, many are known to interact synergistically with insecticides, greatly increasing their toxicity to the bees,” McArt said.

Chlorothalonil has been linked to stunted colony growth in bumblebees and an increased vulnerability to Nosema, a fatal gut infection in bumblebees and honeybees.

“Nosema can be devastating to bumblebees and honeybees,” said McArt. “Since fungicide exposure can increase susceptibility of bees to Nosema, this may be the reason we’re seeing links between fungicide exposure, Nosema prevalence and bumblebee declines across the United States in this data set.”

For domestic and global agriculture, bumblebees are a key component due to their ability to use “buzz pollination” that vibrates and shakes pollen loose from flowers. In the United States, bees contribute more than $15 billion to the economy and $170 billion to global agribusiness, according to global economic research and a 2012 Cornell study. While half of crop pollination work is done by commercially managed honeybees in the U.S., the other half is done by bumblebees and wild bees.

McArt and his Cornell colleagues will continue to investigate fungicide-insecticide synergisms and fungicide-pathogen interactions under the New York State Pollinator Protection Plan and a new grant from the New York Farm Viability Institute.

Funding was provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Science Foundation.

Source: Cornell University

 

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Scientists urge action against insect decline

Scientists from four different institutes and nationalities came to Brussels on Tuesday, 7 November. [Pollinis]

A recent study showed a 75% decline in Germany’s insect population over a period of almost 30 years but the European Crop Protection Association (representing pesticide companies Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer) told EURACTIV.com that the study did not identify the cause of the decline, which could therefore not be attributable to agriculture.

But Professor Hans De Kroon, one of the authors of the study, countered that.

“Knowing the exact cause is crucial to reversing this situation. But not knowing the exact cause should not be an excuse to do nothing,” he said during a debate hosted by MEP Eric Andrieu (France, S&D) and organised by French NGO Pollinis in the European Parliament on Tuesday (7 November).

Environmentalists call for pesticide ban as study shows extent of insect decline

Scientists have raised the alarm after a study 27 years in the making found the biomass of flying insects in nature protected areas has declined by more than 75% since 1990. The causes of the decline are not fully understood.

Scientific consensus

Neonicotinoids are the most used class of pesticides in the world and act on insects’ nervous systems. They can be sprayed on leaves but the most common use is seed-coating, used as a preemptive measure against pests. But when seeds are pre-coated in neonicotinoids, the plant only absorbs 2 to 20% – the rest is dispersed in the environment.

Research shows neonicotinoids have an impact the fertility of bees as well as bees’ weight and their reproductive system, reducing total population numbers, argued Peter Neumann,  chair of the Institute of Bee Health in Bern University, and author of a 2015 EASAC report which put the costs of the loss of pollination in Europe at €14.6 billion.

Neonics also have an impact on natural predators, including spiders and birds – who act as a form of natural pest-control, valued €91 billion annually worldwide – and on micro-organisms that ensure soil fertility (€22.75 billion).

Alternatives for farmers

While the data prompts to action, the scientist recognised there is a need for caution as well.

“We need to be fully aware of the consequences of a ban – what are the alternatives for farmers of an EU ban? Are they going to be reimbursed for crop loss, or can they be provided alternative molecules that target only pests?” Neuman asked.

He said “we should get over this fear of GMOs”, largely based on a lack of understanding, and invest in research which could provide an answer to pest management.

But GMOs are probably the largest EU taboo, and for the time being, farmers say a ban would leave them with less effective and more polluting alternatives.

Maize farmers on glyphosate and neonicotinoids: ‘We need to protect science’

As member states are due to vote on two key dossiers, maize farmers claim that EU regulation restricting access to plant protection products and plant genetics has reduced their competitiveness worldwide and that such regulation is not based on science.

But Jean-Marc Bonmatin, a scientist with the French National Research Committee CNRS said solutions such as integrated pest-control management, where pesticides are only used as a last resort, already exist.

And even when farmers lose their crops to pests, the Italian maize farmers’ experience shows it is less costly to insure (€3,50/ha) than to pre-emptively treat the crops with neonicotinoids (€40/ha).

An EU-wide ban

In Europe, Italy banned neonicotinoid seed treatment in 2008, citing concerns for pollinators.

France will ban neonicotinoids from September 2018, although some crops lacking alternatives will be exempted until 2020.

Following an assessment by the European Food Safety Agency EFSA in 2013 which identified “high risk to bees”, the European Commission imposed a partial ban on three neonicotinoid molecules on some crops.

But Fabio Sgolastra, a researcher at the University of Bologna and member of EFSA’s Working Group For Bee Risk Assessment, thinks this was not sufficient: “The risk is not negligible. The partial ban is not in line with science.”

EFSA just recently concluded a new risk-assessment including 100 more studies that have been published since 2013, which have confirmed the threat posed by neonicotinoids to bees and other pollinators.

The Commission will review EFSA’s risk assessment and submit a proposal to ban all uses of neonicotinoids except in greenhouses, which member states will have to vote on by the end of the month.

Justice for bees: French court to look at pesticide ban

An environmental organisation has filed a lawsuit to ban sulfoxaflor, a pesticide that has fallen through the cracks of the ban on neonicotinoids. EURACTIV France reports.

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Pesticides found in honey around the world

 

Insecticides are cropping up in honey samples from around the world, a new study finds, suggesting that bees and other pollinators are being widely exposed to these dangerous chemicals. The commonly used insecticides, known as neonicotinoids, are absorbed by plants and spread throughout their tissues. When pollinators collect and consume contaminated pollen and nectar, they can suffer from learning and memory problems that hamstring their ability to gather food and sometimes threaten the health of the whole hive. That’s a pressing concern because of the important role of honey bees and wild bees in pollinating crops, particularly fruits and vegetables. To get an idea of the extent of the threat to pollinators from pesticides, researchers in Switzerland asked their friends, relatives, and colleagues around the world to provide locally sourced honey. They found neonicotinoids most frequently in samples from North America, where 86% had one or more neonicotinoid, and least often in South America, where they occurred in 57% of samples. Globally, just over a third of samples had levels that have been shown to hurt bees, the researchers report today in Science. None of the samples had concentrations dangerous to human health. More than two types of neonicotinoids turned up in 45% of the honey samples, and 10% had four or five; the effects of mixtures are not known, but suspected to be worse. The team calls on governments to make more data available on the amounts of neonicotinoids being used in agriculture, which would help clarify the relationship between the amounts used by farmers and how much turns up in honey.

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