The research magazine Science recently published studies that linked a commonly used class of pesticides, neonictotinoids, with declining bee populations. Neonictotinoids have been the fastest growing category of pesticides since their introduction in the mid-90’s, and they were developed specifically because they are less toxic than other pesticides. Unfortunately, they work as a neurotoxin on insects, and seem to have been approved without understanding what impacts they would have on non-target pollinator insects (honeybees, bumble bees, butterflies, wasps and others). This new research seems to be a key link in the puzzle of colony collapse. Read on for more implications of this research and a cross-section of media coverage on these reports.
Bee populations have been declining gradually for decades, but that decline has accelerated dramatically beginning in the early 2000’s. From the Farm Futures coverage of the topic, “in October 2006, some beekeepers began reporting losses of 30%-90% of their hives.” Crashing pollinator populations spells big trouble for agriculture at all scales. 70% of our crops depend on pollinator insects for fertilization, including a favorite of honeybees: corn. While many who have been studying the causes of bee colony collapse point to multiple factors, including disease, climate change, and more, evidence of pesticides’ impact has been strong enough to gather over a million signatures on a petition to the EPA to suspend use of one of the pesticides in this class, clothianidin.
You have to be a subscriber to Science to read their full-length articles, but there are other sources that provide good coverage as well.
For a succinct overview of the issue, head to Wired or The Sacramento Bee:
For excerpts of the research published in Science, and corresponding responses from pesticide manufacturer Bayer, head to Farm Futures: