Researchers in France have concluded that neonicotinoid pesticides harm individual honey bees, but do not have the same effect on whole colonies in the wild. They state that whole honey-bee colonies can actually survive, according to BBC News. The study, which was published in the Royal Society’s Proceedings B journal, states that the reason for this is due to “discrepancies between lab and field studies.”
The discrepancies, BBC News reports, lie in the “toxicity assessments in the laboratory, where bees are dosed artificially with insecticide, and the findings of field trials in the countryside.” This leads to the question of whether or not lab results can be found in the real world and whether or not those conditions contribute to bee decline. The answer is the “missing link,” as it were, between bees and pesticides.
The French researchers say they’ve found an explanation of the missing link, noting that wild honey bees that forage around crops that have been exposed to pesticides die off at a rate that’s faster than normal. However, colonies in the wild are able to make up for the bees that die off. How? By “boosting the number of worker bees in the hive,” according to BBC News.
Dr. Mickael Henry, lead researcher of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research, INRA, in Avignon, told BBC News, “We could find evidence of troubles at the individual scale in the field but these troubles were compensated for by the colonies. The population inside the hive was able to compensate for the increased loss of worker honey bees by increasing brood production.”
The Dewar Crop Protection Ltd’s Dr. Alan Dewar told BBC News, “The conclusions from this work, which are very simple in contrast to the study itself, show that bees, or at least honey bees, can compensate for adverse effects of pesticides in their environment.”
While this study is a step forward, other scientists conclude that additional studies are needed and that pesticide use should still be monitored, if not banned. Dr. Scott Hayward of University of Birmingham told BBC News, the study “reignites arguments to ban neonics.” University of Dundee’s Dr. Christopher Connolly added, “It is important to remember that all other insect pollinators do not possess the enormous buffering capacity of honey bees and are therefore more acutely at risk to the impact of pesticides.”
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