San Diego

UCSD Study Shows Common Pesticide Damages Honey Bees' Ability to Fly

The study discovered the first evidence that this broadly-used pesticide can harm bee flight.

A study conducted by biologists at UC San Diego suggests a common pesticide impairs the ability of honeybees to fly.

“Our results provide the first demonstration that field-realistic exposure to this pesticide alone, in otherwise healthy colonies, can alter the ability of bees to fly,” said UC San Diego postdoctoral researcher Simone Tosi, a co-author of the study, in a statement.

It was published Tuesday by UCSD Researcher Simone Tosi, Biology Professor James Nieh and Associate Professor Giovanni Burgio, from the University of Bologna, Italy. 

The study describes in detail how Neonicotinoid pesticides hurt honeybees.

Neonicotinoid is a relatively new form of insecticide commonly used on grains, fruit, vegetables and other crops to kill insects, according to the study.

In the past the insecticide was thought to not have a negative impact on honeybees because of its low toxicity levels, but this new research suggests otherwise.

“Honeybee survival depends on its ability to fly because that’s the only way they can collect food. Their ability to fly is also crucial to guarantee crop and wild plant pollination," said Tosi.

For over a decade scientists have been searching for the cause of Honey Bee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which occurs when worker bees disappear, leaving behind food, their queen bee, bee larvae and not enough nurse bees to care for the hive.

UCSD biologists aimed to test whether neonicotinoids are a possible factor. They used a bee flight testing instrument called a flight mill. This allows the researchers to test the bees' ability to fly under consistent and controlled conditions.

Long term exposure to the pesticide over one or two days showed the distance, duration and velocity of bee flight were significantly altered, according to the study.

The bee's ability to get food and pollinate are driven by its flight -- having bee flight be affected by the pesticide results a decrease in pollination and food supply.

The study also discovered that the bee also becomes at high risk for not being able to finding its way back to its colony and then dying as a result.

Short term exposure caused an increase in activity levels for a short amount of time, but their behavior was erratic and they flew farther from their hive, according to the study.

“Bees that fly more erratically for greater distances may decrease their probability of returning home,” said James Nieh, a UCSD biology professor and co-author of the study.

The decline in honeybee populations is cause for concern because of its close association with the human diet and nutrition, said Nieh.

“[We’re] trying to get a better understanding of what damages bees and how we have been influenced by what happens in the environment, or the products we use in the environment,” said Tosi.

UC San Diego researchers will be studying the safety of insecticides and how those insecticides can affect bees, along with other impacting factors such as nutritional deficits.

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