Two new studies have highlighted a negative impact on bees' ability to learn following exposure to a combination of pesticides commonly used in agriculture. The researchers found that the pesticides, used in the research at levels shown to occur in the wild, could interfere with the learning circuits in the bee's brain. They also found that bees exposed to combined pesticides were slower to learn or completely forgot important associations between floral scent and food rewards.
In the study published today (27th March 2013) in Nature Communications, the University of Dundee's Dr Christopher Connolly and his team investigated the impact on bees' brains of two common pesticides: pesticides used on crops called neonicotinoid pesticides, and another type of pesticide, coumaphos, that is used in honeybee hives to kill the Varroa mite, a parasitic mite that attacks the honey bee.
The intact bees' brains were exposed to pesticides in the lab at levels predicted to occur following exposure in the wild and brain activity was recorded. They found that both types of pesticide target the same area of the bee brain involved in learning, causing a loss of function. If both pesticides were used in combination, the effect was greater.
The study is the first to show that these pesticides have a direct impact on pollinator brain physiology. It was prompted by the work of collaborators Dr Geraldine Wright and Dr Sally Williamson at Newcastle University who found that combinations of these same pesticides affected learning and memory in bees. Their studies established that when bees had been exposed to combinations of these pesticides for 4 days, as many as 30% of honeybees failed to learn or performed poorly in memory tests. Again, the experiments mimicked levels that could be seen in the wild, this time by feeding a sugar solution mixed with appropriate levels of pesticides.
Dr Geraldine Wright said: "Pollinators perform soph
|Contact: Rob Dawson|
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council