If You Care About Bees, Look Past Neonicotinoids Iida Ruishalme; Thoughtscapism; 14 Oct 2015
- There is a claim that keeps coming up in discussions, namely, that one commonly used pesticide class would be the Number One enemy of bees. Unfortunately, deciding that neonicotinoids would be the root cause of bee problems, is a strategy that does not give the bees much cause to celebrate. The evidence points to a whole host of different factors as the main cause for their troubles – mainly mites, viruses, and habitat loss.
Preponderance of field studies and latest research still concludes bees not disappearing Henry Miller; Genetic Literacy Project; 25 Aug 2016 The Buzz: Six Reasons Not To Worry About The Bees Henry I Miller; Forbes; 24 Aug 2016
First multi-year study of honey bee parasites and disease reveals troubling trends Varroa mite infestations more severe than previously thought, with links to spread of viral diseases Science Daily; 26 Apr 2016
- Honey bee colonies in the United States are in decline, due in part to the ill effects of voracious mites, fungal gut parasites and a wide variety of debilitating viruses. Researchers from the University of Maryland and the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently completed the first comprehensive, multi-year study of honey bee parasites and disease as part of the National Honey Bee Disease Survey. The findings reveal some alarming patterns, but provide at least a few pieces of good news as well.
Science by news release: Media miss on bee “extinction” reports Jon Entine; Genetic Literacy Project; 18 May 2016
- When it comes to covering bees and farming, a week does not go by without an out of context headline or a poorly written story creating misconceptions about a genuinely important issue. The latest fumble came over the past week when the USDA released its first-ever honey bee health survey showing an 8 percent drop in total honey bee hives since last January. A number of reporters turned this dip into scare headlines, but few dropped the ball as badly as Alan Bjerga, writing for Bloomberg. His headline: U.S. Bee Colonies Continue to Decline as Pests, Chemicals Blamed. But it wasn’t just the headline that failed to contextualize the issue correctly, the report itself also missed the mark. To be clear: bee colonies in the U.S. are not ‘continuing to decline.’ Yes, they declined in the one-year survey—falling from recent highs. But there is no downward trend, in the U.S. or anywhere in the world, despite the insinuations in the headline and article.
Genetic Literacy Project AMA Jon Entine; Reddit; Dec 2016
- I’m Jon Entine, a science journalist and founder of the Genetic Literacy Project and Epigenetics Literacy Project (501c3 as the Science Literacy Project), which cover the intersection of human genetics and agricultural sciences with public policy.
In recent years, I’ve written dozens of articles about honeybees, wild bees, neonicotinoids, plant pests and the critical importance of pollinator health on the GLP, Huffington Post, Forbes, Wall Street Journal and elsewhere. My reporting — examining the research and interviewing the top entomologists — has shown that claims of mass bee die offs (bee-appocalypse) due to pesticides grossly misstates the data. Managed honey bee populations are increasing or stable in North America, Europe and worldwide and wild bees are not endangered. Numerous factors that have led to some problems in bee health. What I believe are advocacy-based explanations for manageable health challenges, and recommended solutions--bans of effective, low impact pesticides--are simplistic and will do more harm than good. I’ve written three books about the politics of food and farming, including "Let Them Eat Precaution: How Politics is Undermining the Genetic Revolution in Agriculture" and "Crop Chemophobia: Will Precaution Kill the Green Revolution? Numerous Redditors linked to my writing on bees during a recent AMA by Chensheng Lu, whose research I've addressed in my writings...so I came here for my own.
Beepocalypse Myth Handbook: Dissecting claims of pollinator collapse Genetic Literacy Project; 28 Jul 2016
- Myths and truths about bees: There is no dangerous decline in the global honeybee population – in fact, bee populations are rising in North America and globally – and a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids are not fostering a global pollinator crisis.
Butterflies and Bees: real facts about pollinators Genetic Literacy Project
- links to resources
Neonicotinoids: Trying To Make Sense of the Science Randy Oliver; Scientific Beekeeping ; First published in: American Bee Journal, August, 2012
- Science is all about trying to understand things. When a scientist gets a hunch about why is it that something happens, he puts his hypothesis to the test in an experiment. He may then publish the results, including his own interpretation of the data—at which point other scientists are duty bound to question every aspect of the study, as well as to attempt to replicate the original results. In the end, we hope to learn what is actually true. And this is my intent, to get to the truths of the neonicotinoid issue. In this series of articles, I am essentially “thinking out loud.” I find that the neonic issue is so emotionally charged that folk try to pigeonhole you as holding a black or white position, and then try to paint you as defending that position. Please let me be clear—I hold no position, and am not trying to defend anything! I’m simply asking that we stick to the facts, rather than playing to irrational fears and supposition. To that end I am intentionally taking on the role of “mythbuster,” which is predictably rubbing some folk the wrong way. But if I can get people actually thinking, rather than merely parroting, then I feel that my efforts have been successful!
'Advocacy Research' Discredits Science And Aids Unprincipled Activism Henry I. Miller; Forbes; 5 Oct 2016
- Atrazine & frogs
- Neonicotinoids and bees - Chensheng Lu, University of Sussex scientist David Goulson. Jonathan Lundgren; Task Force on Systemic Pesticides of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, “the world’s largest and most diverse environmental network” of government and civil society organizations. They intended to orchestrate the production and publication of a series of “high impact” scientific papers, using respected scientist authors and targeting the most prominent scientific journals, to support a pre-determined conclusion: that neonicotinoid pesticides were dangerous and must be banned.
Bee Experts Dismantle Touted ‘Harvard’ Neonics-Colony Collapse Disorder Study As ‘Activist Science’ Jon Entine; Huffington Post; 13 Feb 2015
- Lu is convinced, unequivocally, that a popular pesticide hailed by many scientists as a less toxic replacement for farm chemicals proven to be far more dangerous to humans and the environment is actually a killer in its own right. “We demonstrated that neonicotinoids are highly likely to be responsible for triggering Colony Collapse Disorder in bee hives,” claimed Lu. The future of our food system and public health, he said, hangs in the balance.
- One of the central problems with Lu’s central conclusion—and much of the reporting—is that despite the colony problems that erupted in 2006, the global bee population has remained remarkably stable since the widespread adoption of neonics in the late 1990s. The United Nations reports that the number of hives has actually risen over the past 15 years, to more than 80 million colonies, a record, as neonics usage has soared. Country by country statistics are even more revealing. Beehives are up over the past two decades in Europe, where advocacy campaigns against neonics prompted the EU to impose a two-year moratorium beginning this year on the use of three
Neonicotinoids pose little risk to bees in ‘real world settings’ study says Maegan Murray; Genetic Literacy Project; 16 Aug 2016
Study: Neonicotinoid pesticides pose low risk to honey bees Maegan Murray; Washington State University; 15 Aug 2016
- While neonicotinoid pesticides can harm honey bees, a new study by Washington State University researchers shows that the substances pose little risk to bees in real-world settings.
- The team of WSU entomologists studied apiaries. . . in Washington state, looking at potential honey bee colony exposure to neonicotinoid insecticides from pollen foraging. The results were published in the Journal of Economic Entomology (http://jee.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2016/01/19/jee.tov397) this spring.
Survey and Risk Assessment of Apis mellifera (Hymenoptera: Apidae) Exposure to Neonicotinoid Pesticides in Urban, Rural, and Agricultural Settings T. J. Lawrence, E. M. Culbert, A. S. Felsot, V. R. Hebert, W. S. Sheppard; Journal of Economic Entomology; 19 Jan 2016
- A comparative assessment of apiaries in urban, rural, and agricultural areas was undertaken in 2013 and 2014 to examine potential honey bee colony exposure to neonicotinoid insecticides from pollen foraging. Apiaries ranged in size from one to hundreds of honey bee colonies, and included those operated by commercial, sideline (semicommercial), and hobbyist beekeepers. Residues in and on wax and beebread (stored pollen in the hive) were evaluated for the nitro-substituted neonicotinoid insecticides imidacloprid and its olefin metabolite and the active ingredients clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and dinotefuran. Beebread and comb wax collected from hives in agricultural landscapes were more likely to have detectable residues of thiamethoxam and clothianidin than that collected from hives in rural or urban areas (∼50% of samples vs. <10%). The maximum neonicotinoid residue detected in either wax or beebread was 3.9 ppb imidacloprid. A probabilistic risk assessment was conducted on the residues recovered from beebread in apiaries located in commercial, urban, and rural landscapes. The calculated risk quotient based on a dietary no observable adverse effect concentration (NOAEC) suggested low potential for negative effects on bee behavior or colony health.
Woodcock et al and Tsvetkov et al / Science
Country-specific effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on honey bees and wild bees B. A. Woodcock, J. M. Bullock, R. F. Shore, M. S. Heard, M. G. Pereira, J. Redhead, L. Ridding, H. Dean, D. Sleep, P. Henrys, J. Peyton, S. Hulmes, L. Hulmes, M. Sárospataki, C. Saure, M. Edwards, E. Genersch, S. Knäbe, R. F. Pywell; AAAS Science; 30 Jun 2017
- Neonicotinoid seed dressings have caused concern world-wide. We use large field experiments to assess the effects of neonicotinoid-treated crops on three bee species across three countries (Hungary, Germany, and the United Kingdom). Winter-sown oilseed rape was grown commercially with either seed coatings containing neonicotinoids (clothianidin or thiamethoxam) or no seed treatment (control). For honey bees, we found both negative (Hungary and United Kingdom) and positive (Germany) effects during crop flowering. In Hungary, negative effects on honey bees (associated with clothianidin) persisted over winter and resulted in smaller colonies in the following spring (24% declines). In wild bees (Bombus terrestris and Osmia bicornis), reproduction was negatively correlated with neonicotinoid residues. These findings point to neonicotinoids causing a reduced capacity of bee species to establish new populations in the year following exposure.
Chronic exposure to neonicotinoids reduces honey bee health near corn crops N. Tsvetkov, O. Samson-Robert, K. Sood, H. S. Patel, D. A. Malena, P. H. Gajiwala, P. Maciukiewicz, V. Fournier, A. Zayed; AAAS Science 30 Jun 2017
- Experiments linking neonicotinoids and declining bee health have been criticized for not simulating realistic exposure. Here we quantified the duration and magnitude of neonicotinoid exposure in Canada’s corn-growing regions and used these data to design realistic experiments to investigate the effect of such insecticides on honey bees. Colonies near corn were naturally exposed to neonicotinoids for up to 4 months—the majority of the honey bee’s active season. Realistic experiments showed that neonicotinoids increased worker mortality and were associated with declines in social immunity and increased queenlessness over time. We also discovered that the acute toxicity of neonicotinoids to honey bees doubles in the presence of a commonly encountered fungicide. Our work demonstrates that field-realistic exposure to neonicotinoids can reduce honey bee health in corn-growing regions.
Commentary & criticism
New Study Finds Neonicotinoids May Have Harmful, Beneficial, or No Effects on Bees Iida Ruishalme; Thoughtscapism; 2 Jul 2017
Bees, Neonicotinoids, Statistics, and Viruses Oh My The Mad Virologist; 5 Jul 2017
- By now, many people have seen the two new studies claiming harm from neonicotinoids to honeybees, one was conducted in Europe and one in Canada. There have also been several articles criticizing the work for overstepping the data and drawing unsupported conclusions. I have a few issues with these studies beyond what has already been stated, so I'll shares some of the issues I have here and I won't touch on the other criticisms that others have covered.
- In the European study, the researchers collected quite a few data points and took many different measurements. In total, there were 258 data points taken. Despite all of this, the researchers did not adjust for multiple measurements. From the supplemental materials and methods: "We did not apply Bonferroni corrections as the lack of independence for the majority of the response variables (e.g. different life stages of honey bee) meant that there was no valid level for the correction." This is a serious issue that I'll explain below.
- First it's important to understand why correction for taking multiple measurements is vital. The main reason why researchers do this is because when many things are measured, the likelihood of false positives being found increases as the number of measurements increases. To counteract this, researchers will adjust the P-value to limit the risk of false positives (called a Type I error in statistics). The Bonferroni correction is a common method for doing this. It adjusts the resulting P-value so that it is smaller when more measurements are taken. Some researchers do not like it because it tends to be more conservative; however, not using it, or other methods for correction of multiple tests, introduces false positives in research.
- In the supplemental materials and methods, the researchers claim that they were not taking independent measurements. However, this is not entirely accurate. The best way to describe these measures is semi-independent. As an example, the number of brood and their health directly impacts the future number worker bees and the survival numbers the next winter. However, the number of workers the following winter does not impact the number of brood the previous spring. Furthermore, their reason for not using Bonferroni Correction does not make sense as the measurements are semi-independent. The Bonferroni Correction is only one method to reduce the rate of false discovery. This method may or may not be correct in this case, but there are other methods for correcting the false discovery rate of dependent data. It is very risky to not perform any correction of large data sets like this when there are so many measurements being taken. It really doesn't look like a statistician was consulted for this paper and the quality suffers as a result.
- One only has to look at the data in order to see that not correcting for multiple corrections could be what has led to the confusion surrounding the paper. The figure below shows each measurement in each of the three locations for both of the neonicotinoids tested. The results are confusing and there is no consistent result by treatment or country; the positive and negative results are mixed in with no particular link to a given treatment or country. This looks like the type of result you would see if there were false positives in the study from not correcting for multiple comparisons. Because of the lack of correction for multiple comparisons, which is commonly done in cases even when the measurements are semi-independent, we can't draw conclusions from the statistical tests that were run for this data set.
- even if the results are accurate, there are still issues with the interpretation of those results that make the conclusion that neonicotinoids harm honeybees problematic.
- Lack of a consistent effect
- Looking at the raw data presented above, one thing is clear. There is no clear impact of neonicotinoids on any of the measurements taken. For example, the number of larval cells at flowering for thiamethoxam (TMX) showed an improvement in response to seed treatment in Germany, a negative response was seen in Hungary, and a neutral response was seen in the UK. For clothianidin (CLO), it was neutral in all three locations. The other critiques focused on the number of positive and negative effects among all the measurements, but they didn't address a key issue here. If a particular neonicotinoid was having an impact on honeybee health, it should be consistent across locations (this is why field researchers conduct experiments in several locations). If neonicotinoids in general were having a negative impact, then the effect should have been consistent across locations and treatments. Lacking this, the conclusion that neonicotinoids are negatively impacting honeybee health is not supported. This conclusion was toned down in the discussion for the article, but the press release had this as a firm conclusion and led to quite a bit of confusion in the reporting. It's another example of the disturbing trend of science by press release where the conclusions are touted without showing the needed supporting data. This often leads to bad science reporting as press releases will often overstate results. I've previously spoken about this issue here.
- The Canada study: just a single season
- I'll now address some of the concerns I had with the Canadian honeybee/neonicotinoid study. The biggest problem I have is that they based the laboratory exposure levels on a single growing season rather than monitoring the neonicotinoid levels over multiple years. Field work needs to be replicated for at least two years but often three or more years are required. One of the reasons for this is because pesticide residues can vary from year to year. Let's stop and think about that for a second. If pesticide residues can vary from year to year, does it make sense to use just a single growing season to determine what a field relevant dose of neonicotinoids is? All they can state is that the residue levels seen in the fields tested that year had an impact when given to bees. They cannot use the results from a single year to make blanket conclusions for all areas and years. For all we know the seed treatment could have been excessive that year (accidents do happen) and the converse is equally as true. This is precisely why replication of years is crucial for field work. Multiple years of measurements are needed to draw conclusions of any value.
- What about the viruses and varroa mite?
- In the supplemental materials and methods, the authors of the Canadian study state this: "We actively managed the colonies during the season, including adding empty honey ‘supers’ (i.e., a shallow 5-11/16” D x 19-7/8” L x 16-1/4” W chamber) and removal of swarm cells, but we did not chemically treat the colonies to control hive pests or diseases." In addition to not controlling hive pests or diseases, they also did not measure them. There is a reason why this matters. Previous work has clearly demonstrated that infection with bee viruses negatively impacts honeybee foraging behavior. Nosema also negatively impacts honeybee behavior. Not accounting for these diseases, let alone controlling for them by treating them, is a huge misstep as it introduces potential variation to the study that cannot be accounted for. Because of this, we do not know if diseases altered the foraging behavior of the studied honeybees and caused them to gather more pollen with neonicotinoids where it was more plentiful (in areas that were "treated"). Previous work has demonstrated that combining diseased honeybees with pesticides further reduces honeybee health, so ignoring this important finding in previous literature does not make sense.
- The bottom line It's difficult (even impossible) to account for all factors in a field study. However, if there is a known factor that has been shown to reduce the very thing you are measuring, then it must be accounted for in the experimental design. Neither paper is exceptionally well designed for an agricultural study. Each study has issues that make it hard to draw conclusions from the data due to confounding factors that were not accounted for. If these papers had been sent to either an entomology or agronomy journal, the issues in each would have held up both papers. Both studies do not adequately address previous research on the topic in the experimental design, introduction or discussion. The format could be partially responsible for this, but these issues should have been addressed in the design of the experiment. Publication of weak studies like this only serve to confuse people, especially when coupled with poor science reporting that relies heavily on information in press releases.
Study paints a confused picture of how insecticides are affecting bees John Timmer; Ars Technica; 30 Jun 2017
- There's widespread agreement that bees around the world are in trouble. A few years back, domestic honeybee nests started experiencing mass die-offs, and problems were found in wild bees as well. What hasn't been clear is what the cause might be. Viruses, fungi, and pesticides have all been floated as possible causes, but definitive evidence has been hard to come by; a number of scientists have suggested that there might be multiple contributing factors.
- Nevertheless, suspicions focused on a specific class of insecticides called neonicotinoids. The EU has already placed restrictions on their use, and it's considering a near-total ban.
- If you read the headlines this week, it would appear that a new study completely justifies that decision. Funded in part by two insecticide manufacturers, a team of independent researchers purportedly tied neonicotinoids to bee colony health. But a quick look at the underlying data shows that the situation is far more complex. And a second paper, with more robust results, supports the idea that these insecticides are merely one of a number of factors contributing to bees' problems.
- One of the two papers, by a group of European researchers, was meant to be definitive. They obtained a waiver from the EU to use neonicotinoids in fields in three countries: Germany, Hungary, and the UK. Different fields received either one of two different neonicotinoids or were untreated and acted as controls (untreated fields still received normal applications of other agricultural chemicals). Honeybee colonies were set up nearby, and the researchers found nearby nests of wild bees to track their health. If anything could make matters clear, this study seemed designed to do so.
- It didn't.
- The researchers used various measures of bee and colony health for both domesticated and wild bees, a total of 14 tests in all. But that was 28 tests when you consider they did two different insecticides, and 88 once you consider that they analyzed each country separately. Using the standard measure of statistical significance—only a five-percent probability that a result was produced by chance—means that this many tests almost certainly produced a few significant results by chance.
- Making matters worse, the UK fields had horrible over-winter survival, including in the controls, so the numbers weren't high enough to perform any statistical analysis at all. (On the plus side, that cuts us down to 70 individual statistical tests.)
- In the United Kingdom, high hive mortality precluded a formal statistical analysis of overwintering worker numbers. The majority of the remaining results weren't statistically significant. That leaves us with just eight results that stood out above background noise. And, among those eight results, it appeared that the insecticides were protective in three of them. In other words, hives near the treated field had healthier bee colonies.
- Two of those protective results came in Germany, where no significant negative effects were seen. Astonishingly, the researchers use that to conclude there are "country-specific effects" in how the insecticides influence bee health. They go on to write that, "These findings point to neonicotinoids causing a reduced capacity of bee species to establish new populations in the year following exposure." It's hard to understand how the confused set of results justifies either of these conclusions.
- The more likely issue is that, despite the excellent experimental design, there were too many other factors influencing bee health. Fortunately, a second paper was released at the same time, and it has somewhat clearer results. In this case, the authors went into the field and measured the levels of neonicotinoids in hives near agricultural areas. They then created a series of their own hives, both treated with similar levels and left untreated as controls. All animals were given an RFID tag and put in a common hive to keep conditions as similar as possible.
- Here, there was a consistent pattern of results. The neonicotinoid treatment reduced the lifespan of the bees, caused them to leave the hive earlier, and reduced their grooming behavior. Colonies that were treated were also less likely to replace their queen if she left in a swarm.
- But constant, chronic exposure was needed to see some of these effects, which grew more severe over time. And in their survey, the researchers found that most colonies in agricultural areas had neonicotinoids present from May until August.
- The Canadian team also looked at whether insecticides were the entire problem by exposing the animals to a number of agricultural fungicides, which are often used in parallel. They found that one of the four tested (something called Boscalid) enhanced the lethality of the insecticide. That's consistent with the idea that, while neonicotinoids aren't helpful to bees, they're only part of the problem that's leading to colony collapse.
More evidence on the effects of neonicotinoids on honey bees…maybe? David Pattemore; SciBlogs; 30 Jun 2017
- Two papers were published today in the prestigious journal Science reporting negative effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on honey bees and wild bees in realistic field trials. Neonicotinoids are arguably public enemy number one for bees in the mind of the public, but the actual science behind the headline-grabbing stories is far from conclusive about the impacts of these pesticides.
- Neonicotinoids are a class of insecticides which have a more specific action against insects and a lower environmental impact than more traditional organophosphate pesticides. As they are taken up by plant tissues, including through the coating of seeds to protect the resulting seedling as it grows, much lower rates can be used. In this sense, they are widely held to be far superior to traditional organophosphate pesticides which are broad spectrum and are applied at higher rates than neonicotinoids to suppress pest insects.
- Several studies have reported a negative effect of neonicotinoid pesticides on the health and behaviour of bees in laboratory experiments. This has led to concerns among scientists, the public and policymakers about the harmful effects of neonicotinoid use. Most of their effects, however, have been reported as sub-lethal, in other words, they don’t directly kill the individual bees immediately, but their long-term effects on behaviour or physiology could affect the health of bee colonies and insect populations. A big limitation to date has been that large-scale field trials to test the ‘real world’ effects of the use of neonicotinoids are very difficult to run, and so clear evidence of the effects has been lacking.
- I am aware of only four realistic field trials published prior to today. Two studies looked at the effect of real-world neonicotinoid treatments on honey bee colonies and found no negative effect (Cutler et al., PeerJ, 2014; Pilling et al., PLOSOne, 2013). Another study found a negative impact on individual honey bees, but found that the colonies were able to compensate for the loss of these individual bees so that there was no net effect (Henry et al., Proc Roy Soc B, 2015). The fourth study has probably been the most convincing to me to date, finding a negative effect on wild bumble bees and solitary bees, but no effect on managed honey bee hives (Rundlöf et al., Nature, 2015).
- Two new studies have been published in Science this week, by Woodcock et al and Tsvetkov et al. The main take home message from these two studies is that they are the first to document negative effects on honey bee colonies from real-world neonicotinoid exposure. So in terms of the number of studies evaluating the hypothesis that real-world use of neonicotinoids have colony-level effects on honey bees, the score in my calculation now stands at 2 for, 4 against. This is how science proceeds: we are likely to continue to see scientific tussles back and forth while we narrow in on the actual suite of factors that affect honey bee health.
- However, when you look a little closer at these new studies, the results are not quite so straightforward. In the Woodcock et al. study, the trial was repeated in three countries. When we look at the honey bee data, where nine parameters were assessed for each of two neonicotinoids, no negative effect was detected in Germany (they actually found a positive effect), two negative effects were detected in Hungary, and two negative and one positive effect were found in the UK.
- Even when negative effects were found, this appears to only be linked to one of the two neonicotinoid treatments compared to the control. But all three treatments (the control and the two different neonicotinoid treatments), had different fungicide treatments applied with them, violating the basic scientific rule to control all variables apart from the one you are interested in, or at least account for these other variables. This study, unfortunately, has confounded neonicotinoid treatment with fungicide treatment, so it is not really possible to draw many conclusions on neonicotinoids alone. So my personal opinion is that the effect on honey bees in this study is ambiguous at best.
- In terms of wild bees, the evidence is more convincing. Both bumble bees and the solitary Osmia bicornis bees showed reduced reproductive output with higher levels of neonicotinoids. This was based on total neonicotinoid residues in nests, which was not correlated with experimental treatment (i.e. the aim of the experiment to delimit three different exposures to the bees did not work), and included another widespread neonicotinoid not tested in this study. This part of the paper is an important piece of evidence of the negative effects of increased neonicotinoid exposure on the reproductive capacity of wild bees.
- The second paper by Tsvetkov et al. is more convincing about the effect of neonicotinoids on honey bees. It starts with an assessment of the exposure of bees to agrichemicals in cropping and non-cropping areas. Like the other study, their exposure was not directly linked to the treatments of the crops in the fields in which the hives were placed, but rather reflected exposure from a much wider surrounding area. Then, based on the levels of the neonicotinoid clothianidin found from these exposure trials, they assessed the effects of feeding pollen contaminated at these levels to honey bees.
- The neonicotinoid treatment reduced the longevity of workers (which can hasten colony decline), reduced hygienic behaviour by the colonies (which affects susceptibility to pathogens and parasites), and increased ‘queenlessness’ (a state where the hive is without an active laying queen, so reproductive output stops until a new queen is raised or installed). They also show that combining neonicotinoids with a particular pesticide increased lethality of the neonicotinoid (which could explain some of variability in results found in the other paper).
- In terms of the balance of evidence for all six papers now published, one study shows negative effects on colonies, one is ambiguous and four show no negative effects on honey bee colonies. We shall have to continue to wait to see what further studies reveal.
Controversial pesticides may threaten queen bees. Alternatives could be worse. Jenna Gallegos; Washington Post; 29 Jun 2017
- Two large-scale studies published Thursday suggest that common pesticides may harm bee colonies. In some cases, the pesticides contribute to the loss of not only worker bees but also queens.
- The studies, in the journal Science, have been eagerly anticipated because of concerns about the effect of neonicotinoid pesticides on pollinators, but the results were not as clear-cut as experts had hoped.
- The question is not whether neonicotinoids can be toxic to bees. These chemicals are marketed for their insect-killing power, and bees are, after all, insects. What has been harder to pin down is whether the exposure bees experience in the wild is harmful. Tests of neonicotinoids on bees in the lab show that the compounds are dangerous to them, but field studies have largely failed to implicate the pesticides.
- To resolve the controversy, two teams conducted large-scale field and lab studies designed to mimic natural conditions across four countries. Researchers in Europe placed bees in neonicotinoid-treated canola fields and monitored their health. Researchers in Canada monitored bees in apiaries within 550 yards of treated corn fields. They sampled pollen and honey for pesticides over five months and attempted to replicate that exposure under controlled conditions. Both studies showed negative but different effects on bees, and demonstrated that bees are picking up neonicotinoids from surprising sources.
- In the European study, three types of bees were placed in 33 different canola fields across three countries. The differences between bees in treated or untreated fields were largely insignificant, and many of the bees in both groups died before they could be counted. This demonstrates how tough large-scale field studies are to conduct, said Richard Pywell, one of the study authors.
- Of the differences that were statistically significant, results varied by country. In Hungary, honeybee egg production decreased and fewer worker bees survived the winter. In Britain, honeybee worker numbers decreased, and so did drones for a certain species of wild bee. In Germany, drone numbers for that same wild bee species and honeybee egg production actually increased.
- Several important factors might help explain these regional differences. Nearly half the pollen picked up by bees in Hungary and Britain came from canola. In Germany, that number is closer to 10 percent. That means German bees had a wider variety of flowers to choose from, possibly diluting their exposure to pesticides.
- Disease rates were also lower in Germany. In Britain, many of the bees fell prey to the dreaded Varroa destructor mite — a hairy, fanged parasite that many bee experts blame for the majority of losses that occur in commercial honeybee operations. In Hungary, a fungal infestation devastated the bees in the study. That bees in Britain and Hungary, but not Germany, were adversely affected by neonicotinoid exposure suggests that the pesticides may exacerbate deadlier pressures bees face, such as parasites.
- However, the small number of significant effects “makes it difficult to draw any reliable conclusions,” said Norman Carreck, science director of the International Bee Research Association, who was not part of either study.
- Christopher Cutler, who studies insect toxicology at Nova Scotia's Dalhousie University, echoed Carreck’s concerns, pointing out that “when many different analyses are conducted” (42 in this case), “a small number of statistically significant effects are bound to emerge by chance.”
- In another complication, when the researchers in Europe sampled the nests of bumble bees and solitary bees for pesticide residues, they found contamination with one type of neonicotinoid not used in the study. This was surprising, because there is a moratorium on the use of the pesticides to treat seeds of flowering plants in the European Union. This supports previously proposed hypotheses that neonicotinoids, which are water soluble, might persist in the soil, and that the bees were picking up chemicals applied before the ban.
- In the Canadian study, scientists found that bees were exposed to 26 different pesticides. Neonicotinoids were present far below dangerous levels, but the exposure continued for months. Surprisingly, the bulk of contaminated pollen didn’t come from crops treated with the pesticide but from wildflowers nearby. That adds to the evidence that neonicotinoids might move through the soil and get picked up by other plants.
- Researchers fed the bees “pollen patties” laced with neonicotinoids at levels reflective of what they measured in the field.
- Bees’ health suffered in several ways. Worker bees exposed as larva died younger, and treated colonies were more likely to be without a queen. Queen loss is normal during midsummer, but the exposed colonies were much less likely to rear a replacement queen.
- Neonicotinoids also interfered with a behavior known as “social immunity.” Usually, bees remove their dead compatriots from the hive, but bee corpses stuck around longer in exposed colonies. Finally, neonicotinoids, when mixed with a certain fungicide, were more toxic than either alone.
- Cutler, who was not part of either study, called these results “interesting” and “useful” but regretted that the researchers did not collect any “colony-level data,” such as fertility, honey production or winter survival rates, which might better reflect the resiliency of bee colonies.
- Bee exposure to neonicotinoids has been a puzzle. The pesticides are chemically similar to nicotine, which evolved in plants as a natural defense against insect predators. Neonicotinoids are commonly used to treat seeds or soil before planting. They move through the plant providing allover defense throughout development. They are popular with farmers because they don’t have to be sprayed throughout the season. Theoretically, that should mean less exposure for bees than to a sprayed pesticide.
- In practice, recent concerns have focused on the capacity for neonicotinoids to be kicked up in dust clouds during planting. Canada has mandated the use of agents that help keep neonicotinoids out of the air.
- The new studies suggesting that neonicotinoids seem to persist in the soil may help explain how bees, which do not forage on wind-pollinated corn, could still be exposed near fields of treated corn seeds.
- In terms of how neonicotinoids effect bees in the field, many questions remain. How far is far enough for a wildflower to be from a treated field without taking up neonicotinoids? And as Pywell wonders, “If the bees are healthier, will they be more resilient to stresses such as neonicotinoids?” Together, the two research groups looked at a handful of bee species. What of the 20,000 others that inhabit the planet? And perhaps the most difficult question, what should we do about it?
- An approach popular with activists would be to ban neonicotinoids altogether, but many experts worry this would cause farmers to turn to older and potentially more harmful methods of pest control. “Things are better for honey bees since neonics replaced more harmful insecticides,” said beekeeper and science blogger Randy Oliver.
- Since the E.U. moratorium went into effect in 2014, farmers in England have struggled with increased pest pressure, Carreck said. Many have turned to pyrethroid pesticides, which have unknown consequences on bees and other beneficial insects. Pywell emphasized that if the E.U. continues the moratorium, we need to investigate what alternative pesticides are doing to bees.
- I asked Dave Walton, a family farmer in Iowa, what he would do if neonicotinoids were banned. “We would have to use other products. … Lorsban comes to mind.” Lorsban is a brand name for an equally controversial organophosphate insecticide, part of a class that is far more toxic to humans than neonicotinoids. They are also not more bee-friendly.
- Amro Zayed, who was involved with the Canadian study, recommends restricting the use of insecticides until after a pest problem occurs, instead of preemptively applying them to every seed we plant. Oliver agreed. “Neonics are still vastly overused as risk management, rather than as needed treatments for actual pest control,” he said.
- When I asked Walton whether this was a workable compromise, he seemed less optimistic. “We use it to combat insects that feed on the seed and seedlings,” he explained. “By the time we find the insects, the damage is already done.”
- The buzzword in farming these days is what’s known as “integrative pest management.” In IPM systems, conventional pesticides are used responsibly, and pest control relies heavily on natural predators. One potential strategy Pywell discussed is limiting exposure by supplying other flowers near fields that could also serve as a refuge for pest predators. Walton explained that they employ a similar strategy on his farm, planting wildflowers and other native plants in ditches and field margins. However, given the evidence that neonicotinoids are more mobile and persistent than previously imagined, it may be important to monitor whether flowers in refuges are picking up neonicotinoids.
- Wildflower refuges could also address an even greater threat to bees — habitat loss. Endless rows of wind-pollinated corn leave bees of all types scrambling for food. Likewise, urban sprawl and grassy lawns make for homeless, hungry pollinators. Many bee experts emphasize the importance of considering how changes to all landscapes could help or harm the pollinators we depend on.
Neonic Study Makes A Splash In The Headlines But Trashes Science Henry I Miller; Forbes; 30 Jun 2017
- Researchers in the U.K. this week have provided us the most recent example of a scourge about which I and others have written previously: science by press release. It often includes almost everything that is wrong with what passes for science today: ex post facto cherry-picking of data to support an agenda-driven conclusion (a form of “confirmation bias”); hyping of questionable results to garner headlines; the failure of large parts of the science community to call their colleagues on what are clear and egregious distortions; and shortcuts by "science writers" who substitute parroting the press release for critical thinking.
- The most recent hype surrounds an article, “Country-specific effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on honeybees and wild bees,” by B.A. Woodcock of the U.K.’s Center for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) and his colleagues, published on Thursday in the journal Science.
- According to the press release for this study, the researchers found that "exposure to [neonicotinoid] treated crops reduced overwintering success of honeybee colonies…in two of the three countries.” And “[l]ower reproductive success--reflected in queen number (bumblebees) and egg production (red mason bee)--was linked with increasing levels of neonicotinoid residues in the nests of [the two] wild bee species…across all three countries.”
- That prompted the study’s lead author, Dr. Ben Woodcock, to summarize: "The neonicotinoids investigated caused a reduced capacity for all three bee species to establish new populations in the following year, at least in the U.K. and Hungary."
- What neither the press release nor the two-page published article conveyed, however, is that the authors are basing their study’s conclusions on a handful of outlier results–effects so small that they could be occurring by chance--amid a much larger amount of experimental data they generated that points to precisely the opposite conclusions. Inexplicably, this was not caught and required to be corrected by the peer-reviewers.
Neonics Hurt Bees? Researchers and the Media Say Yes. The Data Do Not. Jon Entine; Slate; 30 Jun 2017
- On Thursday, Science published a large-scale study on the relationship between bees and a pesticide, neonicotinoids. It got quite a bit of pickup in the press—Nature touted that the “Largest-Ever Study of Controversial Pesticides Finds Harm to Bees,” while the BBC explained that a “Large-Scale Study ‘Shows Neonic Pesticides Harm Bees.’ ” The Scientist said the same, with “Field Studies Confirm Neonicotinoids’ Harm to Bees,” and PBS followed suit with “Neonicotinoid Pesticides Are Slowly Killing Bees.”
- These headlines seem to reflect a line included in the abstract of the study itself: “These findings point to neonicotinoids causing a reduced capacity of bee species to establish new populations in the year following exposure.”
- Sure sounds like a bummer for the bees. One problem: The data in the paper (and hundreds of pages of supporting data not included but available in background form to reporters) do not support that bold conclusion. No, there is no consensus evidence that neonics are “slowly killing bees.” No, this study did not add to the evidence that neonics are driving bee health problems.
- Unfortunately, and predictably, the overheated mainstream news headlines also generated a slew of even more exaggerated stories on activist and quack websites where undermining agricultural chemicals is a top priority (e.g., Greenpeace, End Times Headlines, and Friends of the Earth). The takeaway: The “beepocalypse” is accelerating. A few news outlets, such as Reuters (“Field Studies Fuel Dispute Over Whether Banned Pesticides Harm Bees”) and the Washington Post (“Controversial Pesticides May Threaten Queen Bees. Alternatives Could Be Worse.”), got the contradictory findings of the study and the headline right.
- But based on the study’s data, the headline could just as easily have read: “Landmark Study Shows Neonic Pesticides Improve Bee Health”—and it would have been equally correct. So how did so many people get this so wrong?
- This much-anticipated two year, $3.6 million study is particularly interesting because it was primarily funded by two major producers of neonicotinoids, Bayer Crop Science and Syngenta. They had no involvement with the analysis of the data. The three-country study was led by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, or CEH, in the U.K.—a group known for its skepticism of pesticides in general and neonics in particular.
- The raw data—more than 1,000 pages of it (only a tiny fraction is reproduced in the study)—are solid. It’s a reservoir of important information for entomologists and ecologists trying to figure out the challenges facing bees. It’s particularly important because to date, the problem with much of the research on neonicotinoids has been the wide gulf between the findings from laboratory-based studies and field studies.
- Some, but not all, results from lab research have claimed neonics cause health problems in honeybees and wild bees, endangering the world food supply. This has been widely and often breathlessly echoed in the popular media—remember the execrably reported Time cover story on “A World Without Bees.” But the doses and time of exposure have varied dramatically from lab study to lab study, so many entomologists remain skeptical of these sweeping conclusions. Field studies have consistently shown a different result—in the field, neonics seem to pose little or no harm. The overwhelming threat to bee health, entomologists now agree, is a combination of factors led by the deadly Varroa destructor mite, the miticides used to control them, and bee practices. Relative to these factors, neonics are seen as relatively inconsequential.
- I’ve addressed this disparity between field and lab research in a series of articles at the Genetic Literacy Project, and specifically summarized two dozen key field studies, many of which were independently funded and executed. This study was designed in part to bridge that gulf. And the devil is in the interpretation.
- According to the lead researcher Richard Pywell of the CEH:
- We’ve shown for the first time negative effects of neonicotinoid-coated seed dressings on honeybees and we’ve also shown similar negative effects on wild bees. … Our findings are a cause for serious concern.
- I agree that there might be cause for serious concern if the studies had shown convincing evidence of negative effects. But a review of the data—by the GLP and independent scientists—concludes differently. The European study focused on three types of bees placed in fields across three countries—Germany, Hungary, and the U.K. As Jenna Gallegos noted in her particularly nuanced analysis in the Washington Post:
- [T]he results were not as clear-cut as experts had hoped. … The differences between bees in treated or untreated fields were largely insignificant, and many of the bees in both groups died before they could be counted.
- Overall, the data collected from 33 different fields covered 42 analyses and 258 endpoints—a staggering number. The paper only presented a sliver of that data—a selective glimpse of what the research, in its entirety showed.
- In sum, of 258 endpoints, 238—92 percent—showed no effects. (Four endpoints didn’t yield data.) Only 16 showed effects. Negative effects showed up 9 times—3.5 percent of all outcomes; 7 showed a benefit from using neonics—2.7 percent.
- As one scientist pointed out, in statistics there is a widely accepted standard that random results are generated about 5 percent of the time—which means by chance alone we would expect 13 results meaninglessly showing up positive or negative.
- Norman Carreck, science director of the International Bee Research Association, who was not part of either study, noted, the small number of significant effects “makes it difficult to draw any reliable conclusions.”
Europe and EFSA
EU 2013 precautionary ban
Time to Decide on Neonicotinoids: A Letter to European Commissioner Andriukaitis RISKMONGER; 13 Feb 2017
- The precautionary ban on three neonicotinoids was rushed through by the previous activist-driven DG Sanco in record time (two months);
- They had driven EFSA to develop a Bee Guidance Document (for how bee risk assessments should be conducted) that had deep conflicts of interest – * I have shown how EFSA’s Bee Risk Assessment Working Group was captured by three anti-pesticide activist scientists);
- Because the conditions and demands of the proposed Bee Guidance Document were so severe (actually, ridiculously impossible), the European Council has refused to approve it (on multiple occasions) – four years later, it remains invalid;
- Because the European Union acted to ban the three pesticides without a legal basis, Syngenta and Bayer took the European Commission to court;
- That case will begin this week and it looks likely that the European Commission will lose, face a humiliation and be forced to pay damages to the two companies;
- These damages might be justified if the result would be saving the bees, however, there is clear evidence (from the Commission’s own research) that honeybee health is not at risk, that field studies on neonicotinoids show little to no effect on bee health and that there is insufficient evidence of risks to wild bees and other pollinators;
- Farmers are suffering economic losses, lower yields and higher labour costs as they are being forced to use older, more toxic and less environmentally friendly solutions to replace the three state of the art insecticides;
- Farmers are also choosing to plant less pollen-rich crops like sunflowers and oilseed rape given the precautionary ban on neonicotinoids. This will have adverse effects on pollinator health that I suspect your predecessors had not intended;
- Given the weaker alternatives, I have learnt from farming authorities in the UK that the cabbage stem flea beetle is growing so strong in some regions that even if neonicotinoids are allowed back onto the market, the pests may have grown so strong as to have become “out of control”. This is clearly not what your Directorate General has been charged with delivering to the European public.
- Joint Research Centre (JRC) 11 January 2017 report:
- The findings of the JRC study clearly highlight the negative effects on farmers from the 2013 precautionary ban on neonicotinoids including increased use of older, less efficient pesticides like pyrethroids, more spraying of pesticides with increased costs and time. These non-seed-treated neonic applications have proven to be less effective with increased incidence of pests. In short, according to the JRC study commissioned by DG Santé, the temporary precautionary ban has not improved bee health but has lead to increased costs to farmers, risks to crops and damage to the environment. In other words, the EU’s precautionary neonicotinoid ban of 2013, according to the European Commission’s own research, was judged to be a failure.
EU expected to vote on pesticide ban after major scientific review Declan Butler; Nature; 28 Feb 2018
- In a long-awaited assessment, the European Union’s food-safety agency has concluded that three controversial neonicotinoid insecticides pose a high risk to wild bees and honeybees. The findings by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in Parma, Italy, raise the chances that the EU will soon move to ban all uses of the insecticides on outdoor crops.
- Discussion on Pesticide Myth Busters
- Risk-Monger David Zaruk commented:
- The most interesting line in the press release is when EFSA openly admitted they were using the bee guidance document that is so strict and severe that no pesticide would ever pass scrutiny. It has not been accepted by the standing committee (rejected 3 or 4 times over the last 4 years) yet the Commission keeps forcing EFSA to use it as the base upon which to define acceptable data from field tests. Url, in the EP, even admitted this. So EFSA in their press release was saying what they were told to say, while sending out a coded plea for help. With Selmayr gone, there is hope the guidance document will be removed and EFSA can consider all data from field trials. See an interesting twitter discussion - scroll up the thread to see Url's talk in the EP. (twitter discussion)
- Discussion on GMO Skepti-forum
37 Million Bees dead near GMOs
37 Million Bees Dead After GMO Seeds Planted Nearby YourNewsWire.com
Rumor: 37 million bees were found dead in Ontario after the planting of a large GMO cornfield. David Mikkelson; Snopes
endangered species list
Hawaiian bees are first on US endangered species list BBC News; 1 Oct 2016
- Seven species of yellow-faced bee native to Hawaii have become the first bees to be added to the US federal list of endangered and threatened species.
Conservationists say the bees face extinction through habitat loss, wildfires and the introduction of non-native insects and plants. The bees are crucial to pollinating some of Hawaii's endangered plants.
No, the Bee-Pocalypse Isn’t Here Yet Matt Miller; Slate; 5 Oct 2016
- Yes, seven species of bee were just added to the endangered species list. But they’re all in Hawaii, and none of them are honeybees.
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added 49 species of plants and animals to the endangered species list on Friday, all native to Hawaii. Unlike the dozens of similar releases the FWS publishes each month (this is the sad state of the environment in 2016), the 75-page document garnered national media attention thanks to the seven notable inclusions nestled in the middle of the list: yellow-faced bees.
- If you’ve been paying attention to the news or the internet in the past decade or so, you’re probably aware of the idea that bees are dying globally at an alarming rate, thanks to something called colony collapse disorder. Given the national panic about bee populations, you can see why this addition to the endangered species list might make something of a splash.
- But we should not be panicking about the bees. OK, yes, we can worry about the recently listed bees, but that’s a separate problem. The threat of colony collapse disorder, though, has largely passed. As I wrote in a piece for Slate this summer, the global bee problem most of you have heard about is almost entirely a problem with captive honeybees (nicknamed the tiniest livestock, due to their role in pollinating as much as a third of our crops). But despite troubling population declines in the late ’00s, honeybees are not actually in imminent danger of extinction. They’re doing fine, have largely recovered well, and are still pollinating our plants.
How Rising CO2 Levels May Contribute to Die-Off of Bees Lisa Palmer; Yale environment 360; 10 May 2016
- As they investigate the factors behind the decline of bee populations, scientists are now eyeing a new culprit — soaring levels of carbon dioxide, which alter plant physiology and significantly reduce protein in important sources of pollen.