Exposure to Pesticides Reduces The Size of Worker Bees And Adversely Impacts Our Food Chain

By Ajit Jha on January 19, 2014 7:04 PM EST

worker bee
Worker bees that were exposed to a certain type of pesticide were more likely to hatch and grow smaller, making them less effective at foraging, and therefore, less helpful to their colonies. (Photo: Bird-Kid, CC BY 2.0)

A new study by researchers at the Royal Holloway University of London has revealed that prolonged exposure to the pesticide pyrethroid, which is used to prevent insect damage to flowering crops, reduces how big workers bees grow.

The pesticide is used extensively, causing worker bumblebees that are exposed to it to grow less and hatch at a smaller size. For the study, which was published in the Journal of Applies Ecology, researchers exposed half of the bumblebees in their lab to the pesticide. Studying several characteristics, they monitored the bees over a four-month period, looking at the number of queens and male bees produced in the colony, as well as their size and weight.

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"We already know that larger bumblebees are more effective at foraging," Gemma Baron, a co-author of the study, said in a press release. "Our result, revealing that this pesticide causes bees to hatch out at a smaller size, is of concern as the size of workers produced in the field is likely to be a key component of colony success, with smaller bees being less efficient at collecting nectar and pollen from flowers."

As the first study to test the effect of pyrethroid pesticides, it causes real concern. The European Union put a moratorium on the use of three neonicotinoid pesticides, making it more likely that farmers will begin using pyrethroids and other classes of pesticide.

Because bumblebees are a critical component to our food chain, it is important that we understand the adverse effects of chemicals on the environment, and subsequently bumblebees. "We know we have to protect plants from insect damage but we need to find a balance and ensure we are not harming our bees in the process," he said in the release.

The findings will be presented at the National Bee Health Conference in London later this month. Dr. Nigel Raine, of the School of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway, who will speak at the conference, said in the press release: "Our work provides a significant step forward in understanding the detrimental impact of pesticides other than neonicotinoids on wild bees. Further studies using colonies placed in the field are essential to understand the full impacts, and conducting such studies needs to be a priority for scientists and governments."

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