Biologists at UC San Diego have discovered that a small dose of a commonly used crop pesticide turns honey bees into "picky eaters" and affects their ability to recruit their nestmates to otherwise good sources of food.
The results of their experiments, detailed in this week's issue of the Journal of Experimental Biology, have implications for what pesticides should be applied to bee-pollinated crops and shed light on one of the main culprits suspected to be behind the recent declines in honey bee colonies.
Since 2006, beekeepers in North America and Europe have lost about one-third of their managed bee colonies each year due to "colony collapse disorder." While the exact cause is unknown, researchers believe pesticides have contributed to this decline. One group of crop pesticides, called "neonicotinoids," has received particular attention from beekeepers and researchers.
The UC San Diego biologists focused their study on a specific neonicotinoid known as "imidacloprid," which has been banned for use in certain crops in some European countries and is being increasingly scrutinized in the United States.
"In 2006, it was the sixth most commonly used pesticide in California and is sold for agricultural and home garden use," said James Nieh, a professor of biology at UC San Diego who headed the research project with graduate student Daren Eiri, the first author of the study. "It is known to affect bee learning and memory."
The two biologists found in their experiments that honey bees treated with a small, single dose of imidacloprid, comparable to what they would receive in nectar, became "picky eaters."
"In other words, the bees preferred to only feed on sweeter nectar and refused nectars of lower sweetness that they would normally feed on and that would have provided important sustenance for the colony," said Eiri. "In addition, bees typically recruit their nestmates to good food with waggle dances, and we discovered that the tr
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University of California - San Diego