Feeds

Disappearing bees mystery: Boffins finger regicide pesticides

Buzz-buggers say neo-Nick O'Teen makes drones get lost

Security for virtualized datacentres

Boffins investigating the ongoing mystery of disappearing bees have linked commonly used pesticides to their decline.

A moss carder bumblebee

A moss carder bumblebee. Credit: David Goulson

Two studies, one by UK researchers and one in France, have suggested that neonicotinoid insecticides, which have been in use since the early 1990s, could be harming bee populations worldwide.

It's not the first time that scientists have proposed that pesticides could be partially to blame for the disappearing bees, but it's been unclear exactly how the chemicals are damaging the fuzzy flower-furtlers.

In the last few years, many boffin-years have been devoted to the mysterious disappearance of bees, often referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder, as honeybee populations have been decimated and bumblebee species have also gone missing.

“Some bumblebee species have declined hugely. For example in North America, several bumblebee species which used to be common have more or less disappeared from the entire continent. In the U.K., three species have gone extinct,” Dave Goulson of the University of Stirling, co-author on the British study, said in a tinned statement.

Goulson and his colleagues exposed developing bumblebee colonies to a neonicotinoid called imidacloprid in doses comparable to what they might find in the wild. They found that the colonies were around ten per cent smaller than hives that weren't exposed.

The treated colonies also produced 85 per cent fewer queen bees, meaning far fewer bee-leaders to go off and set up new colonies of their own.

“Bumblebees pollinate many of our crops and wild flowers. The use of neonicotinoid pesticides on flowering crops clearly poses a threat to their health, and urgently needs to be re-evaluated,” said Goulson.

The French study stuck tiny RFID chips on to honeybees so they could track them as they buzzed in and out of their hives. The boffins, based at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), found that bees they had blasted with a sublethal dose of the neonicotinoid thiamethoxam got disorientated and couldn't find their way home.

Honeybees have a homing ability that lets them navigate back to their hives, which the researchers reckon was messed up by the pesticide. The lost honeybees were two to three times more likely to die outside the nest, pushing populations down to levels that would be difficult to recover from.

"Our study raises important issues regarding pesticide authorization procedures. So far, they mostly require manufacturers to ensure that doses encountered on the field do not kill bees, but they basically ignore the consequences of doses that do not kill them but may cause behavioural difficulties," said study author Mikaël Henry of INRA.

Both studies are to be published in this month's Science journal.

Neonicotinoid pesticides have long been lambasted by environmental groups that think they are harmful to wildlife and plant life, despite the fact that they became popular because of their perceived non-toxicity.

Partial bans have been instituted in some countries, and scientists have previously suggested a link between the pesticides and the decline in bees, although most don't think that's the only reason the bees are dying out.

The US' Environmental Protection Agency notes on its website that France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia have all instituted partial or temporary bans on neonicotinoids over fears of their effect on bees, but adds "to the EPA's knowledge, none of the incidents that led to suspensions have been associated with Colony Collapse Disorder".

Scientists are also in two minds about the potential harm of neonicotinoids, with some claiming that the actual doses used in the wild aren't enough to do any bee-related damage. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
'Utter killjoy Reg hacks have NEVER BEEN LAID', writes a fan
'Shuddit, smarty pants!' Some readers reacted badly to our last Doctor Who review ...
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
White LED lies: It's great, but Nobel physics prize-winning great?
How artificial lighting could offer an artificial promise
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.