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Interview: Role Of Pesticides In Honeybee Decline

AP/Haraz N. Ghanbari

Bees are an essential to the ecology of food production, but for the better part of a decade, a devastating affliction has caused a precipitous drops in their populations.

The term ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’ has been attached to this phenomenon, but two leading bee experts say that CCD is just one part of a much wider problem affecting honey bees, butterflies, bats, and other pollinators.  One focus of research to explain the larger problem is the role of pesticides in disrupting the live cycles of pollinators.

Maryanne Frazier is a senior extension associate at Penn State University and Jim Frazier is professor emeritus of entomology at Penn State. They previewed the talk they're giving in Burlington on Tuesday evening for Vermont Edition.

And it was pretty shocking to us, when we looked at a spectrum of colonies across the country, the diversity and levels of pesticides that we were seeing coming into honeybee colonies. - Maryann Frazier

Three Possible Pesticide Impacts:

Researchers are now trying to figure out how pesticides are impacting the health of individual bees and entire pollinator populations.  Possibilities include:

  • Multiple pesticides are often found together in colonies, and it may be the interaction of the pesticides that creates harm to bees. On average, researchers find six pesticides in pollen, which the protein source for honeybee broods.
  • Bees are often exposed to sub-lethal levels of pesticide that reduce their life spans, interfere with their ability to communicate, navigate and forage, as well as their physiology. This could affect bee colonies to decline over time.
  • Inert ingredients, which are often major components of a pesticide's formulation, may have impacts on bees that are not yet understood. Some of these inert ingredients are toxic to non-target organisms, but are not disclosed, and often not regulated.