Bees and the problems they face
There’s been a lot of talk in the news about the possible effects of agro-chemicals on wild bees. The majority of the research to date has been focused on the species, European Honeybee, the great pollinator. Scientists want to know how the pollinator population is being effected by synthetic agricultural chemicals used in industrial farming, especially types of insecticides called neonicotinoids. When exposed to these chemicals, honeybees feed less and produce less offspring.
Neonicotinoids like thiamethoxam have been shown to suppress the bees’ immune systems, and to cause reduced foraging activity. A failure to return to the hive was also noted. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the U.N. assessed thiamethoxam as moderately hazardous to humans, and acutely toxic to bees.
Another study published in the The Proceedings of the Royal Society Biology, reports the findings of an experiment performed using bumblebee queens.
A total of 506 bumblebee queens were collected for study, and after excluding those affected with parasites, 230 individuals were included in the analysis. The experiment consisted of exposing the bees to high or low doses of thiamethoxam, for 2 weeks. As a control for the experiment, the bees in another group were not exposed to any insecticides.
High and low doses of thiamethoxam were set to mimic the levels that might be found in industrial farming. Most of the bumblebees consumed less food after exposure, and all of the bumblebees showed impaired ovary development.
Why are bees at such risk?
Bumblebee queens are not currently considered in pesticide risk assessments for pollinators, and yet these results indicate that queens are sensitive to neonicotinoids in realistic exposure scenarios. More information is urgently needed on pesticides in crops, wild plants, and in wild bee populations to accurately assess the exposure risks.
Thiamethoxam, a pesticide that has been linked to the decline of honeybees and other pollinators over the past several decades, is approved for use in the US as an antimicrobial pesticide wood preservative, and as a pesticide. In 2014, Syngenta petitioned the EPA to increase the legal tolerance for thiamethoxam residue in numerous crops, in one case increasing the acceptable level by 400 times.
Several peer reviewed studies were published in 2012, showing that some neonicotinoids had previously undetected routes for exposure, such as through dust, pollen, or nectar. It was discovered that thiamethoxam was present in the pollen as well as the nectar. The toxicity levels from exposure to microscopic particles of neonicotinoids resulted in failure to return to the hive without immediate death.
The primary symptom of colony collapse disorder is failure to return to the hive.
In 2013, the European Food Safety Authority performed a formal peer review, which determined that neonicotinoids pose an unacceptably high risk to bee populations in general, and the European Union voted for a 2 year restriction on neonicotinoid insecticides, including thiamethaxom.
In light of these findings, what can we do to ensure the survival of wild bee populations?
There are more than 20,000 species of bees and other pollinators, which are exposed to chemicals wherever chemicals are applied to the soil or crops.
More information is needed to discover how to repair the damage already done to wild bee populations, and to determine what our next steps should be.
Research is essential for understanding and managing the threat from agrochemicals, and preventing further pollinator declines as the result of exposure.
One thing that every individual can do to preserve the pollinator species on this planet is to convert to an organic diet immediately.
Not to sound like an advertisement for organics, but when we eat foods that were grown or produced organically we eliminate the use of synthetics chemicals in agriculture.
Wild bee populations can hold up well against natural predators they find while buzzing about the fields, its the man-made predators that are killing them en masse.