Bees may be collecting less pollen due to their exposure to pesticides. A study published in the academic journal Ecotoxicology claims that bumblebees that are exposed to certain doses of pesticides gather less than half of the pollen that they would be able to otherwise. Pollen is the only source of protein that bees have and is extremely important to their young. Without appropriate levels of pollen being collected, it can be expected that the entire colony will struggle.
The study which was led by University of Sussex professor Dave Goulson, studied the effects that imidacloprid, a powerful insecticide that harms the nervous system of bugs, has on the bees. Scientists exposed bees to imidacloprid then monitored their activity with electronic trackers. Unexposed bees were tracked in a similar fashion and scientists weighed the bees when they exited and entered the hive. The results found that bees subject to imidacloprid returned to the hive with pollen only 40 percent of the time, compared with 63 percent that the unexposed bees brought back. The study concluded that hives exposed to the insecticide received a total of 57 percent less pollen.
Imidacloprid apparently negatively influences the way in which bees collect pollen. Exposed bees are in a way intoxicated, which makes it difficult to work efficiently. If bees are collecting less pollen due to their contact with these pesticides, it may help explain why bees seem to be disappearing. Some areas of the United States and Western Europe have seen up to 95 percent of their bee populations vanish in recent years. The European Union has taken measures to protect the insect by implementing temporary bans on three types of pesticides believed to be harmful to bee populations. Goulson hopes that his team’s research will lead to the passing of a permanent ban.
However, not all were convinced by the research. Lynn Dicks, an ecologist at the University of Cambridge stated that the levels of insecticides given to the bees were on the high-end and most likely higher than what the bees were actually exposed to in reality. A spokesman for Bayer AG, a major imidacloprid producer, criticized the methods of the study saying the researchers force-fed the bees relatively high levels of the pesticide. He stated:
“Real field studies, such as those being initiated this autumn in the UK will give more realistic data on this subject.”
Nevertheless, this makes for an interesting study. If results are true and not exclusive to this particular instance, then Goulson’s team may have added, as he put it, “another piece to the jigsaw.” If bees are collecting less pollen due to their exposure to pesticides then it would certainly help explain their dwindling presence. The problem of Colony Collapse Disorder, or the mass extinction of bees, threatens the entire world. As Albert Einstein once stated “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination, no more men!” Einstein was not an entomologist, but many that are agree that mankind would be in serious trouble if bees went extinct.
By Peter Grazul