Neonicotinoid pesticides keep bees from buzzing properly, a new study shows. This makes it much more difficult for them to release pollen from certain flowers, such as tomatoes and potatoes, and thus fertilize these plants.
While pollen from some plants is collected by simply brushing against the anthers of the flower, other flowers, like tomatoes, require the buzzing of the bee for their pollen to be released.
“Bees produce a vibration – or buzz – to shake pollen out of these anthers like a pepper pot,” study leader Penelope Whitehorn of the University of Stirling in Scotland, told the Guardian. “The bee lands on a flower, curls her body around the anther and grips the base with her mandibles. She then rapidly contracts the flight muscles to produce the vibration, without beating her wings.”
The researchers compared bees exposed to the neonicotinoid pesticide thiamethoxam and a control group of unexposed bees in a laboratory setting to ascertain the neonicotinoid’s effect on their memory. The preliminary results from the study show that bees exposed to realistic field levels of these neonicotinoid pesticides do not learn how to create the proper caliber of buzz and therefore collect less pollen from these plants.
“The implication is the bees take less pollen back to the colonies and the colonies will be less successful, meaning there may be fewer pollinators overall,” explained Whitehorn.
These results were presented at the British Ecological Society’s annual meeting earlier this week and will be submitted to a scientific journal next year.
This new research confirms previous findings that show bees exposed to neonicotinoids exhibit reduced memory and learning capacity. In September, Greenpeace revealed that research commissioned by Syngenta and Bayer confirmed that Syngenta’s thiamethoxam and Bayer’s clothianidin could cause serious harm to bee colonies at high doses, and a 2015 report showed that bumblebees chronically exposed to these pesticides at field-realistic exposure levels “learnt more slowly and their short-term memory was significantly impaired.”
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