Bee Population Collapse Culprit: Common Pesticide?

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March 30 2012 3:42 PM

Bee Population Collapse Might Be Due to Pesticides

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(New research suggests a decline in honeybee populations could be due to the use of a common pesticide. A honeybee hovers over a flower in Kathmandu on November 11, 2011.)

Photo by PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images

As bee populations decline throughout the world, new research may have found the answer in an old culprit: common pesticides.

Two separate European studies have pointed to the use of pesticides known as neonicotinoids as the possible cause of the global collapse of apian colonies. French scientists ran experiments with bees dosed on the bug killer and carrying miniature radio transmitters. Results indicate the insecticide affects the bee’s brain, preventing it from returning home—an essential skill for the insect. A separate British study showed the neonicotinoids prevented bumblebees from supplying their hives enough food to produce new queens.

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Fewer flowers and the insect's vulnerability to pathogens are also contributing factors, say outside experts. And Bayer CropScience, a leading maker of neonicotinoids, claims the studies used dosages that were too high. Authors of the study say the pesticide shouldn’t be used on crops that bees interact with until more research is conducted. Alternatives like pyrethroids do exist, but aren’t as commonly used. In the meantime, the pesticide industry could suffer a sting—but it might be well deserved.

Video produced by Paca Thomas

Ben Johnson is the producer of Marketplace Tech from American Public Media.

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