We know pesticides are killing bees and reaping devastating consequences for the world’s ecosystems – but pinpointing which ones are the biggest offenders has been difficult. Polish scientists recently published a new study revealing 57 pesticides found in European honeybees. The researchers used a new method to examine a wide variety of pesticides and find out which ones are the most harmful – so that we can save our buzzing friends.
Their process starts with the QuEChERS, a method previously used to analyze multiple pesticides in vegetables, fruits, and cereals. The scientists realized they could apply the method to bees as well, and that’s when they found the 57 pesticides present in contaminated honeybees. They applied their method to 70 honeybee poisoning episodes.
It turns out that neonicotinoid, which the European Union banned and the United Kingdom controversially approved, may not be the only pesticide to blame. The Polish scientists developed a method to test 200 pesticides simultaneously, and about 98 per cent of those they studied are currently permitted by the European Union. Their research also looks at how different concentrations affect honeybees.
“Even at very low levels, pesticides can weaken bees’ defense systems, allowing parasites or viruses to kill the colony,” said lead author Tomasz Kiljanek. “Our results will help expand our knowledge about the influence of pesticides on honeybee health, and will provide important information for other researchers to better assess the risk connected with the mix of current used pesticides.”
Part of the conundrum facing researchers is that varying combinations of pesticides produce different results, which makes it hard to narrow down the culprit to only one pesticide. Scientists have said the link between the honeybees disappearing and our use of pesticides is complicated. The Polish team hopes their method will enable scientists to determine where we’ve gone wrong, and they’re just getting started.
“This is just the beginning of our research on the impact of pesticides on honeybee health. Honeybee poisoning incidents are the tip of the iceberg,” said Kiljanek.