57 different pesticides found in poisoned honeybees

March 10, 2016
Honeybees (queen marked). Image: Dr Bill Hughes

European honeybees are being poisoned with up to 57 different pesticides, according to new research published in the Journal of Chromatography A. A new method for detecting a whole range of pesticides in bees could help unravel the mystery behind the widespread decline of honeybees in recent years, and help develop an approach to saving them.

Honeybees are under threat globally: in the US, dramatic declines in due to a condition called colony collapse disorder (CCD) continues to put crops at risk an farmers out of business. Several studies have shown a link between pesticide use and bee deaths and the European Union has banned the use of .

But it's not as simple as banning one pesticide that's killing bees; the relationship between pesticide use and bee death is complex and scientists are still trying to figure out exactly what's happening. In the new study, researchers from the National Veterinary Research Institute in Poland have developed a method for analyzing 200 pesticides at the same time, to figure out what's really putting honeybees at risk.

"Bee health is a matter of public concern—bees are considered critically important for the environment and agriculture by pollinating more than 80% of crops and wild plants in Europe," said Tomasz Kiljanek, lead author of the study from the National Veterinary Research Institute in Poland. "We wanted to develop a test for a large number of pesticides currently approved for use in the European Union to see what is poisoning the bees."

With so many pesticides currently in use, it's difficult to work out which ones are harming the bees. Certain combinations of pesticides, or their use over time, could affect honeybees in different ways. In order to understand what's really going on, we need to know which pesticides and at what concentration levels are present in honeybees.

Kiljanek and the team used a method called QuEChERS, which is currently used to detect pesticides in food. With this analysis, they could test poisoned bees for 200 different pesticides simultaneously, as well as several additional compounds created when the pesticides are broken down. About 98% of the pesticides they tested for are approved for use in the European Union.

The team used the method to investigate more than 70 honeybee poisoning incidents. Their findings revealed 57 different pesticides present in the bees—it's a toxic puzzle they hope their new method will help solve.

"This is just the beginning of our research on the impact of pesticides on honeybee health," said Kiljanek. "Honeybee poisoning incidents are the tip of the iceberg. Even at very low levels, pesticides can weaken bees' defense systems, allowing parasites or viruses to kill the colony. Our results will help expand our knowledge about the influence of pesticides on honeybee health, and will provide important information for other researchers to better assess the risk connected with the mix of current used ."

Explore further: Honeybees entomb to protect from pesticides

More information: Tomasz Kiljanek et al. Multi-residue method for the determination of pesticides and pesticide metabolites in honeybees by liquid and gas chromatography coupled with tandem mass spectrometry—Honeybee poisoning incidents, Journal of Chromatography A (2016). DOI: 10.1016/j.chroma.2016.01.045

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9 comments

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lbfjrmd
3 / 5 (4) Mar 10, 2016
i am sure the same pesticides are in my body now. Varroa and virus are more likely cause of bee deaths.
antigoracle
5 / 5 (4) Mar 10, 2016
i am sure the same pesticides are in my body now. Varroa and virus are more likely cause of bee deaths.

True, but the pesticides could very well be affecting the immune system and thus the bees are more susceptible to disease.
obama_socks
1 / 5 (3) Mar 10, 2016
I wonder if the Russians have the same kind of problem with their bees, and if they do, have they found a solution/cure for it. Monsanto's legacy.
rrrander
1 / 5 (3) Mar 11, 2016
No one seems to GET that the bee decline corresponds EXCTLY to the DECLINE in use of pesticides in the West, especially in urban environments. I know it runs counter to the lock-step environmentalist- induced belief that pesticides are baaaad, but it's possible that pesticides helped bee populations by killing parasites that impact bees, namely the mites that are killing them. Viruses are also taking their toll.
antigoracle
5 / 5 (3) Mar 11, 2016
You don't seem to GET that this study goes counter to what you are claiming about the decline.
Also, if pesticides were killing parasites that impact bees, then those pesticides were killing the wrong thing.
Phys1
5 / 5 (4) Mar 11, 2016
You don't seem to GET that this study goes counter to what you are claiming about the decline.
Also, if pesticides were killing parasites that impact bees, then those pesticides were killing the wrong thing.

"When will you Chicken Little learn the difference between conjecture and fact."
Phys1
5 / 5 (2) Mar 12, 2016
@antigoracle
Note that in this so far unique case, I support your conjecture.
Semmster
5 / 5 (4) Mar 12, 2016
I'm flabbergasted that people expect to pump poison into the environment around them, by the ton, with no consequences. I mean, like, DUH?!
unrealone1
1 / 5 (1) Mar 14, 2016
How many pesticides does the human body contain, or are we not meant to know?
So it wasn't global warming killing the bees..

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