World’s most widely used insecticide proven to damage bees’ brains

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For the first time, scientists have found evidence that the insecticide most frequently used on crops such as corn, canola, cotton, and soybeans is messing with the brains of bumblebees, and causing poor performance in their colonies.
The reasons behind the global decline of bees and other insect pollinators have been as mysterious as they’ve been controversial, but now we have the first evidence to suggest that commercially available insecticides are impairing the brain activity of individual bumblebees, and the performance of entire colonies.
The culprit? Neonicotinoids - a relatively new class of insecticide, developed by Shell and Bayor around 20 to 30 years ago, that are now considered the most widely used class of insecticides in the worldAccording to Elizabeth Grossman at the Yale Environment 360 website, in the US, neonicotinoids are used on about 95 percent of corn and canola crops, and are the most commonly used insecticide on cotton, sorghum, and sugar beets, and are used on about half of all soybean crops. The majority of fruit and vegetable crops in the US, including apples, cherries, peaches, oranges, berries, leafy greens, tomatoes, and potatoes, are also treated with the stuff.
But the widespread use of neonicotinoids, despite serious questions regarding their safety around bumblebees and other insect pollinators, has not gone unnoticed. In 2013, following the results of a year-long study concluding that continued use would have "high acute risks” for bees, the European Commission placed a two-year moratorium on the use of neonicotinoid chemicals on all plants that attract bees. And in Australia, a definitive report on neonicotinoids and bees, led by Robert Manning from the Western Australian Department of Agriculture and Food, will be released in the next few months, the results of which are expected to influence local policies regarding neonicotinoid use.
And now, a team from the Universities of St Andrews and Dundee in Scotland has published a study in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology that shows for the first time that even the small amounts of neonicotinoid insecticide found in nectar and pollen is enough to affect the brain activity of the bumblebees that consume it.
This small amount, the team says, is about 2.5 parts per billion - so around 1 teaspoon in an Olympic swimming pool. There has been much debate over whether this amount could actually be having any effect on the bees at all, so the researchers fed it to a number of bumblebees to see what happened. And because the chemical is designed to target the brains of insects, they tested its accumulation in the bees’ brains.


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