Bumblebees Exposed to Pesticides Linked to Poor Apple Crop Quality, Study Finds

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Bumblebees Exposed to Pesticides Linked to Poor Apple Crop Quality, Study FindsNew research builds on growing concerns over the safety for pollinators exposed to a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids or neonics.

The research, published in the journal Nature, was conducted by researchers out of the University of Guelph in Canada, and found that apple trees pollinated by bumblebees exposed to neonics produced apples with fewer seeds. While that may seem like a bonus to consumers, it’s actually a bad thing—an indication of poor crop quality. This is the first study to look specifically at the pollinating services bees provide and how pesticides are impacting that.

According to the researchers, when bumblebees are exposed to neonics, they visit flowers less frequently than usual, collecting less pollen, which “resulted in an apple crop that had up to 36-per-cent fewer seeds,” reports the Globe and Mail.

“We found there was an impact on individual behaviour and on the services provided by the colonies exposed to pesticides,” Study co-author Nigel Raine said in an interview. Raine’s research points to a compromised ability to learn and remember–two important traits for pollinators.

And while this research joins a growing list of studies that find correlation between pesticide use and decline in pollinator populations—species who are critical to our food supply—the chemical industry maintains its position that it’s not to blame, and that the chemicals are a necessary facet of industrial agriculture.

“Bayer and Syngenta are working on new bee-saving products,” reports AP. “Syngenta is testing biological and chemical agents to fight mites and parasites. Bayer is working on repellants to keep bees away from pollinating plants until pesticides lose their killing power, remote sensors for monitoring hive health, and the latest in a 30-year series of mite-killing treatments.”

But time is of the essence. “The popularity of neonics has exploded in the past decade, replacing the older classes of chemicals that were found to be bad for humans and the environment,” reports Globe and Mail. Concerns over use of neonics led the EU to temporarily ban several classes of the pesticides back in 2013, but they’re still widely used in North America. Now, the European Food Safety Agency is currently assessing whether or not to extend the ban.

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Bumblebee image via Shutterstock

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