Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, July 02, 2017

"They are putting these bees into landscapes where farmers are really farming."
"The key message that's coming out of both of them [two recently-published studies] is that they [researchers] found impacts on honey bee colonies. Previously that has not been found in the field, and that has been a source of confusion."
Professor Nigel Raine, Rebanks family chair in pollinator conservation, University of Guelph

"That's where the controversy lies [conflicting evidence of insecticide effects on bees]."
"If you look at the lab studies, they're highly conclusive. Neonicotinoids have a range of affects on all sorts of organisms, both honey bees and wild bees included. But when you start moving out into the field, you get messier responses."
Christy Morrissey, ecotoxicologist, University of Saskatchewan

"We think we've made that link between neonicotinoid exposure and declines in bee health very clear."
"Yes, honey bees are exposed to sub-lethal doses of neonicotinoids for a long period of time, and that exposure has negative effects on bees."
Dr. Amro Zayed, research head, York University
Bees are important pollinators for many crops and most wild flowering plants. The “ecosystem services” they provide are worth tens of billions of dollars.
Bees are important pollinators for many crops and most wild flowering plants. The “ecosystem services” they provide are worth tens of billions of dollars.  (FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP/GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO)

The collapse and death of bee colonies has been on the front burner of anxious entomologists and food researchers for years. The reason is obvious enough, since bees are nature's busiest and most efficient pollinators. Humans, and of course the plants themselves depend heavily on the work of bees seeking pollen and moving the pollen clinging to their legs, from one flowering plant to another as those industrious little creatures do what nature has equipped them to. Their focus is the production of honey and the maintenance of the hive.

Ever-clever and innovative nature uses her genius to add extraordinary functions to what might otherwise be seen as elementary routine natural phenomena. As critically vital pollinators for most wild flowering plants and many cultivated crops, the value to human endeavour in arable field production through the effects of bee pollination, spoken of as "ecosystem services" is said to measure in economic terms in the tens of billions of dollars yearly.

New research out of Canada led by biologists at York University, published in the journal Science, concomitantly with another study taken in Europe, has closed the gap in understanding just how impacted bees are by the use of popular insecticides on cropland. Neonicotinoids, widely utilized, represent a controversial class of pesticides shown to commit great harm to the health of honey bees. More discussion will be provoked between provincial, federal and international regulators to curtail the use of these agricultural chemicals.

Honey bees and wild bees have been seen to dramatically suffer huge declines in the past few decades and with the recognition of bees' critical importance for the pollination of crops, this worldwide epidemic of a blight of illness affecting bee colonies represents a situation of utmost importance to feeding the world. Disturbed foraging behaviour, the production of new queen bees and allied measures of bee health have been shown to result from exposure to neonicotinoids and lab experiments have borne out that conclusion.

Confronted by natural environment stresses, from climate change to loss of habitat, bees do have other challenges to survival and production. Increasing the dangers they face by exposure to such a commonly used pesticide weighs heavily against the bees' capacity to maintain themselves and their colonies and their critical function as nature's pollinators. Five apiaries close to corn fields in Ontario and Quebec and six apiaries situated a distance from agricultural areas mostly in urban settings were studied through 55 colonies across the 11 sites.

The researchers collected dead and live bees, their larvae, pollen and nectar to discover neonicotinoids in all the various samples from the sites established close to cornfields, finding them present throughout all four months of the growing season. The surprising source of the tainted pollen turned out to be wildflowers not the pesticide-treated corn or soy, but native plants around the fields. The following year the lab fed pollen dosed with comparable levels of neonicotinoids to bees at the university's research apiary to determine that the exposed bees' life spans were reduced by 23 percent. Their function was also impacted; less likely to identify and remove diseased larvae, likelier to lose their queen.

The European study viewed three bee species; honey bee, bumble bee and solitary bee to discern how they fared close to oilseed rape crops in Germany, Hungary and the United Kingdom. The results' impact varied geographically with some scientists stating that the observed variation is precisely what might be expected to occur in nature. The use of neonicotinoids saw a moratorium in 2013 throughout the European Union and a total ban is anticipated.

Close to 100 percent of corn seed and 60 percent of soybean seed are pre-treated with neonicotinoids in Ontario, where two years earlier the province became the first North American jurisdiction to curb corn and soy field acres planted with such treated seeds, aiming for an 80 percent reduction by 2017. Recent figures reveal, however, that the province is short of its target, with a reported 24 percent drop by 2016 from 2014 numbers.

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