The combined effects of pesticides and a lack of nutrition form a deadly one-two punch, new research from biologists at the University of California San Diego has shown for the first time.
In a study published Dec. 20 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Simone Tosi, James Nieh and their colleagues used honey bees due to their important role as agricultural pollinators and “bioindicators” of environmental quality. The researchers studied how honey bees fared with exposure to neonicotinoids—pesticides broadly used in agriculture—along with limited nutrient sources, scenarios that are commonly found in agricultural areas.
The scientists studied two common neonicotinoid pesticides, clothianidin and thiamethoxam, which are used worldwide in vegetable, fruit and grain crops. However, after these pesticides are applied to crops they remain in the environment and can be found in nectar, pollen, water and soil.
The researchers were surprised to find that bee deaths increased by up to 50 percent more than they expected compared with the individual effects of pesticides and poor nutrition. Surprisingly, no previous studies have tested such “synergistic” effects when these threats are combined and amplified beyond the sums of the individual factors.
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Image via Simone Tosi, UC San Diego