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article imageCommon agricultural chemicals kill honeybees

By Tim Sandle     Jul 28, 2013 in Environment
Commercial honey bees used to pollinate crops are exposed to a wide variety of agricultural chemicals. These chemicals have been shown to impair the bees' ability to fight off a potentially lethal parasite.
Globally many bee species are showing significant population declines due to multiple factors (including pesticides, loss of habitat and more intensive agriculture). One of the possible factors is the widespread use of chemicals to treat agricultural crops.
To study the effects of agricultural chemicals, researchers collected pollen from honey bee hives in fields from Delaware to Maine. They analyzed the samples to find out which flowering plants were the bees' main pollen sources and what agricultural chemicals were combined with the pollen.
For this, the researchers fed the pesticide-laden pollen samples to healthy bees, which were then tested for their ability to resist infection with Nosema ceranae, which is a parasite of adult honey bees that has been linked to a lethal phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder. Colony collapse disorder is a phenomenon in which worker bees from a beehive or European honey bee colony abruptly disappear.
On analysis, the pollen samples contained 9 different agricultural chemicals, including fungicides, insecticides, herbicides and miticides. Pesticides found most frequently in the bees' pollen were the fungicide chlorothalonil, used on apples and other crops, and the insecticide fluvalinate, used by beekeepers to control Varroa mites.
For the next step, the effect of chlorothalonil was examined. The researchers found that bees that were fed the collected pollen samples containing chlorothonatil were nearly three times more likely to be infected by Nosema than bees that were not exposed to these chemicals.
The findings will be examined further to see if the results can replicated. The findings do suggest that the overuse of chemicals on crops is affecting the world's bee populations.
The findings come from a study carried out by the University of Maryland and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The findings have been published in the journal PLOS ONE. The paper is titled "Pollination Exposes Honey Bees to Pesticides Which Alters Their Susceptibility to the Gut Pathogen Nosema ceranae."
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