A new study out of UC San Diego has found that a pesticide commonly used in a number of crops has damaging effects on honey bee flight.
Postdoctoral researcher Simone Tosi, biology professor James Nieh, and Professor Giovanni Burgio of the University of Bologna, Italy identified the neonicotinoid pesticide thiamethoxam as having a damaging effect on the flight ability of honey bees.
In order to conduct their research, the team designed and constructed a flight mill (a contraption designed to test bee flight) from scratch. The bee mill allowed them to fly bees in a controlled environment.
For months, the researchers collected data on the relationship between neonicotinoid exposure and bee flight. They found that normal, nonlethal levels of exposure - the levels bees would be exposed to when flying around and foraging on agricultural crops -- significantly damaged bee flight.
Exposure to thiamethoxam over the course of one or two days (long-term exposure) decreased the bees' flight capacity, while shorter-term exposure actually increased their activity levels and flight distance but resulted in more erratic flight patterns.
According to Nieh, "Bees that fly more erratically for greater distances may decrease their probability of returning home."
Nieh also pointed out that thiamethoxam is not immediately lethal to bees. The effects of exposure are rather more insidious. Since bees are social creatures, changes in behavior affect the health of colony as a whole.
"We've shown that a sub-lethal dose may lead to a lethal effect on the entire colony," he said.
Neonicotinoid pesticides are neurotoxic and commonly used on many fruit and vegetable crops via a variety of application methods, including spray, soil, and seed applications. Traces of these pesticides have been detected in the substances the honey bees collect during foraging.
Honey bees are vitally important to the health of an ecosystem, serving essential functions such as global pollination of crops and native flora. Consequently, the failing welfare of managed honey bee populations is causing concern about the impact a honey bee decline would have on the environment, on food security, and on human health. Nieh explained:
"People are concerned about honey bees and their health being impaired because they are so closely tied to human diet and nutrition...Some of the most nutritious foods that we need to consume as humans are bee-pollinated."
The study was published in the journal "Scientific Reports" and you can check it out here.
What do you think of the plight of the honey bee? Let us know in the comments section below.
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