Studies Find that Pesticides Cause Brain Damage in Bees

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–March 29, 2013.  Two studies released Wednesday support the findings of the European Food Safety Authority that neonicotinoid insecticides pose an unacceptable risk to bees. The pair of British studies indicate that neonicotinoids and miticides cause brain damage, compromising bee survival.

The study, published in Nature Communications by researchers at the University of Dundee and Newcastle University, concludes that imidacloprid  and clothianidin, a commonly used insecticides on crops and plants, as well as the organophosphate miticide coumaphos, a treatment for Varroa bee mites, cause cognitive damage in bees. The research indicates that within 20 minutes of exposure to pesticides the neurons in the learning center of the brain stop firing, causing “epileptic type” hyperactivity. While the bees are still alive, the lobes of the brain fail to communicate with each other with obvious implications for their survival,

Another study, published in the Journal for Experimental Biology by a team of Newcastle scientists, links imidacloprid and coumaphos to learning and memory impairment. The research indicates that brain damage from pesticides makes it more difficult for bees to forage and find food, and when they find the food they have trouble locating and returning to their hives. In sum, the Queen bee starves as her worker bees fail to provide enough food, adversely affecting long-term colony survival.

Unfortunately, the effects of imidacloprid and coumaphos together are also additive, with bees less likely to learn and remember floral smells associated with sweet nectar stores —required for survival. Indeed, “Efficient foraging by bees depends on their ability to rapidly learn, remember, and communicate the identity and location of flowers offering nectar and pollen rewards,” according to the researchers.

The shift from organophosphates and carbamates towards systemic neonicotinoid compounds over the past 10 years has brought a slew of concerns. Neonicotinoids are considered systemic, so they are applied to the seed and translocates into all parts of the plant as it grows, including the nectar and pollen that are eaten and collected by pollinators. These non-target organisms have demonstrated marked declines, although pesticides as a cause has been debated and denied by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Studies such as these further establish the role of pesticides in the decline of pollinators. EPA’s failure to regulate these pesticides adequately is all the more troubling since one in every three bites of food is completely dependent on insect pollination.

To learn more about Beyond Pesticides’ Pollinator Protection Program, visit our website. We invite you to discuss this and other important pesticide issues facing farmers, homeowners, and communities around the nation, at Beyond Pesticides 31st National Pesticide Forum in Albuquerque, NM on April 5-6. Organic agriculture, beekeeping, resilient food systems, pesticides, and much more will also be discussed. Space is limited, so register now.

Sources: The Guardian, 

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.