New Study Shows Neonicotinoids Pose Little Practical Risk To Bees

While neonicotinoid pesticides can harm honeybees, a new study by Washington State University (WSU) researchers shows that the substances pose little risk to bees in real-world settings.

The team of WSU entomologists studied apiaries in urban, rural and agricultural areas in Washington, looking at potential honeybee colony exposure to neonicotinoid insecticides from pollen foraging. The results were published in the Journal of Economic Entomology.

Beebread packed into comb cells.
The research team collected samples of beebread, or pollen packed into comb cells, from 149 apiaries across the state.

After calculating the risk based on a “dietary no observable adverse effect concentration” – the highest experimental point before there is an adverse effect on a species – of five parts per billion, the study’s results suggest low potential for neonicotinoids to harm bee behavior or colony health.

“Calculating risk, which is the likelihood that bad things will happen to a species based on a specific hazard or dose, is very different from calculating hazard, which is the potential to cause harm under a specific set of circumstances,” said co-author Allan Felsot, WSU Tri-Cities Professor of Entomology and Environmental Toxicology.

“Most of what has dominated the literature recently regarding neonicotinoids and honeybees has been hazard identification,” he said. “But hazardous exposures are not likely to occur in a real-life setting.”

Felsot said the study shows that the risk of bee exposure to neonicotinoids is small because bees aren’t exposed to enough of the pesticide to cause much harm in a real-world scenario.

Lead author Timothy Lawrence, Assistant Professor and Director of WSU-Island County Extension, said many sublethal toxicity studies, whether at the organism level or colony level, have not done formal dose-response analyses.

“The question we posed focused on the risk of exposure to actively managed honeybee colonies in different landscapes,” he said.

With the cooperation of 92 Washington beekeepers, the team collected samples of beebread, or stored pollen, from 149 apiaries across the state.

Throughout the one-year trial, neonicotinoid residues were detected in fewer than 5% of apiaries in rural and urban landscapes. Two neonicotinoids, clothianidin and thiamethoxam, were found in about 50% of apiaries in agricultural landscapes.

Although neonicotinoid insecticide residues were detectable, the amounts were substantially smaller than levels shown in other studies to not have effects on honeybee colonies. The WSU researchers referenced 13 studies to identify no observable adverse effect concentrations for bee populations, which they used to perform a risk assessment based on detected residues.

“Based on residues we found in apiaries around Washington state, our results suggest no risk of harmful effects in rural and urban landscapes and arguably very low risks from exposure in agricultural landscapes,” Felsot said.

While exposure levels were found to be small, Lawrence said it is still important to be careful with use of neonicotinoid insecticides and follow product label directions. For example, insecticides should not be used during plant flowering stages when bees are likely to be foraging.

“While we found that bees did not have chronic exposure to adverse concentrations of neonicotinoids, we are not saying that they are not harmful to bees – they are,” he said. “People need to be careful with pesticide use to avoid acute exposure.”

Other researchers on the study included Elizabeth Culbert, WSU Food and Environmental Quality Lab (GEQL) research technician; Vincent Hebert, WSU associate professor of entomology and laboratory research director; and Steven Sheppard, WSU professor and department chair of entomology.

 

Topics: , , ,

Leave a Reply

17 comments on “New Study Shows Neonicotinoids Pose Little Practical Risk To Bees

    1. Actually, the UK study doesn’t really show much. If you look at their figures, there is only a small apparent negative effect upon a few species, based upon some fancy modeling that makes a lot of HUGE assumptions (one being that there are no other changes going on in the environment, and that the volunteer surveys actually detected every species present during each survey).

      There is now plenty of evidence that neonics can have adverse effects upon some solitary and bumblebee species, but any such effect is very hard to quantify, with so much natural variation in populations, and changes in the environment.

      As a professional beekeeper, bee researcher, and writer, I’ve objectively reviewed nearly all research, on the neonics, and correspond regularly with most of the researchers. Just as with any insecticide, neonics have the potential to cause problems. Seed treatments in general appear to be pretty safe for honey bees, but may affect some other pollinator species. Any other application of neonics needs to be done with caution to avoid off target effects on beneficials.

      Anyone can read my reviews on the neonics at ScientificBeekeeping.com.

      Although I wrote the above reviews four years ago, none of the recent flurry of research findings has changed my assessments.

      Randy Oliver
      California

  1. Who paid for this research???
    A report without disclosure of interested parties, is misleading. Were wax and honey also tested……or was pollen cherry picked for this study because the amounts of the pesticide were already known to be low?????

  2. What did one of the authors state in the second to last paragraph of this article? Did he say that neonicotoinoids aren’t harmful AT ALL? Or did you just ignore that, bc it’s not convenient for your anti-neonicotoinoid narrative? And are you people claiming that this science isn’t legit? Why? Because you have credentials? Or because you don’t want growers using pesticides? Go away. You add nothing to a discussion of a serious topic that requires serious answers from experts.

    1. Right? I love how every do-gooder activist sitting at a desk can post some links supposedly debunking this peer-reviewed study but offer no solutions to growers trying to produce crops. So what would you tell growers who are looking for practical and economical insecticide options Laura and Nick? How many acres are you consulting on?

  3. First, this is one study. It is nothing to hang our hats on.

    The gist of the research quoted in this article seems to be their model is more predictive of the risk to bees from neonics than the models used by the bulk of the mainstream literature. You asked the right question: why. The answer they gave might have been probed further.

    For example, based on 2014 numbers provided by the Washington Dept. of Ag’s Honey Bee Work Group (of which the lead author of this article is a member), the sample size of this study represents only 15 percent of the state’s industry. How generalizable are their results?

    Some questions I might have asked:

    (1) Co-author Alan Felsot states: “But hazardous exposures are not likely to occur in a real-life setting.”
    Why not?

    (2) Another Felsot quote: “Calculating risk, which is the likelihood that bad things will happen to a species based on a specific hazard or dose, is very different from calculating hazard, which is the potential to cause harm under a specific set of circumstances.”
    What was the specific set of circumstances they used in their study and how generalizable are those circumstances?

    Lastly, I would note the headline of this piece seems to fly in the face of the last Felsot quote in the story: “While we found that bees did not have chronic exposure to adverse concentrations of neonicotinoids, we are not saying that they are not harmful to bees – they are,” he said.

  4. Both of the other articles Laura and Nick quoted didn’t really prove anything. As the original article stated neonicotinoids have a risk, but in real world they haven’t been detrimental. The article Laura quoted said it was probably synergistic effect of many factors and stopped very short of blaming neonicotinoids.

  5. The article talks about the difference between hazard and risk and that is the key. We all use electricity which can be extremely hazardous. The risk depends on the potential for exposure. Same with these products.

  6. The big question is- did the researchers collect samples for analysis from dead and dying colonies. Every bee keeper loses significant numbers of colonies every year. It would also be interesting to know who funded the study.

  7. It’s science people; no one study is fully definitive. And please, what’s with the who funded it conspiracy theory stuff? The Journal of Economic Entomology looks at the science by way of peer review. If that’s not good enough, then you’re stuck in a belief system and shouldn’t be commenting on science. The links to Nature articles are great and deserve thoughtful comparison.

    1. Anytime a political aspect or monetary investment in materials are involved there is reason to question. Often researchers have a motivation to receive continued funding in many cases. In many areas peer review is valid. But when the bulk of the researchers have a vested interest in some facet or continued funding then peer review is corrupt. It is a fact of life, and people are people and have many motivations and agendas.

Crop Protection Stories
a freshly picked avocado cradled in hand
Crop Protection
August 3, 2017
Can Avocados Be Saved from Deadly Laurel Wilt Disease?
Scientists from Florida and California are on the case and collaborating. Read More
Crop Protection
August 2, 2017
Report: 90% of NY Beehives Had Varroa Mites in 2016
Cornell University's NYS Beekeeper Tech Team recent report also shows most hives are infected with Deformed Wing Virus (DWV), a disease linked to the mites. Read More
sprayer nozzles
Biocontrols Conference
July 31, 2017
11 New Biocontrol Products You Need to Know
One of the highlights of the Biocontrols Conference & Expo Series is getting an early look at some of the Read More
Citrus
July 28, 2017
Popular Herbicide Registered for California Bearing Citrus and Caneberries
The supplemental label for Valent’s Chateau herbicide is particularly welcome for California growers of bearing citrus fruit, as it’s a new use. Read More
Diamondback-Moth-adult-Stormy-Sparks
Crop Protection
July 25, 2017
Vegetable Field Scouting Guide: Diamondback Moth
Due diligence is needed to help take down this pest of biblical proportions. Read More
Disease Control
July 25, 2017
Brown Rot Sinks its Teeth into Michigan Cherries
Unseasonably wet weather causes outbreak, and growers are warned it can spread to peaches. Read More
Disease Control
July 24, 2017
Researchers Find Detection Method for Crown Gall Disease
Oregon State University researchers developed molecular tools to work with commercially available kits that allow the user to quickly and effectively test plants for the disease, using a dipstick that reveals the presence of the pathogen within minutes. Read More
Citrus
July 23, 2017
USDA Invests $7.6 Million toward Beneficial Insect Research
Projects to promote beneficial organisms as part of a pest control strategy. Read More
Fruits
July 14, 2017
Brown Marmorated Stink Bug Predator Egg Mass Found
Samuri wasp parasitized egg mass found in Southern New Jersey peach orchard. Read More
Beet-armyworms-on-a-tomato-plant
Citrus
July 12, 2017
Tomato Pests Can Be Induced to Cannibalism, New Study Shows
The University of Wisconsin's John Orrock says when beet armyworms are exposed to concentrations of methyl jasmonate, they will abandon eating tomatoes — and start eating one another. Read More
Citrus
July 12, 2017
USDA Pulls 8 Products from Approved Organic Production List
After a few months of speculation, the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service has published its Sunset 2017 final rule on approved products for organic production and handling. Read More
darkwinged fungus gnat larvae
Fruits
July 12, 2017
How to Deal with Annoying Fungus Gnats on the Farm
Learn how to identify, the survival and spread, as well as management methods for this insect pest. Read More
Close-up of mature diamondback moth
Insect Control
July 7, 2017
Can Genetic Engineering Put an End to Diamondback Moth Plague?
USDA OKs field release of pest with self-limiting gene at Cornell research farm. Read More
Center pivot irrigation system at Florida research farm
Citrus
June 30, 2017
New Project to Promote Water Security for Florida and Georgia Farmers
With the help of five-year, $5 million USDA grant, stakeholders will learn what it takes to better preserve precious resource. Read More
Crop Protection
June 25, 2017
Study Suggests Closer-Proximity Lures Help Increase Insect Pest Catches
Research shows single-trap locations are not as effective as those kept close together. Read More
The Latest
Crop Protection
August 11, 2017
Do Fungicide- and Insecticide-Treated Se…
The University of New Hampshire has received half a million dollars to investigate if seed treatments inadvertently protect weed seeds from its usual predators. Read More
Citrus
August 11, 2017
Field Scouting Guide: Common Lambsquarte…
Take a look at these tips for identifying and treating this pervasive weed. Read More
Crop Protection
August 9, 2017
Why Some of the Most Dangerous Potato Di…
If you understand the role oxygen, and its lack, plays in potato diseases, you'll be better equipped to battle them. Read More
Crop Protection
August 3, 2017
Can Avocados Be Saved from Deadly Laurel…
Scientists from Florida and California are on the case and collaborating. Read More
Crop Protection
August 2, 2017
Report: 90% of NY Beehives Had Varroa Mi…
Cornell University's NYS Beekeeper Tech Team recent report also shows most hives are infected with Deformed Wing Virus (DWV), a disease linked to the mites. Read More
Biocontrols Conference
July 31, 2017
11 New Biocontrol Products You Need to K…
One of the highlights of the Biocontrols Conference & Expo Series is getting an early look at some of the Read More
Crop Protection
July 25, 2017
Vegetable Field Scouting Guide: Diamondb…
Due diligence is needed to help take down this pest of biblical proportions. Read More
Citrus
July 23, 2017
USDA Invests $7.6 Million toward Benefic…
Projects to promote beneficial organisms as part of a pest control strategy. Read More
Citrus
July 12, 2017
Tomato Pests Can Be Induced to Cannibali…
The University of Wisconsin's John Orrock says when beet armyworms are exposed to concentrations of methyl jasmonate, they will abandon eating tomatoes — and start eating one another. Read More
Citrus
July 12, 2017
USDA Pulls 8 Products from Approved Orga…
After a few months of speculation, the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service has published its Sunset 2017 final rule on approved products for organic production and handling. Read More
Crop Protection
June 25, 2017
Study Suggests Closer-Proximity Lures He…
Research shows single-trap locations are not as effective as those kept close together. Read More
Citrus
June 22, 2017
Technology Boom Boosting Farm Life to a …
Whether it is human genetics or genetics applied to plants, knowledge is growing at a dizzying pace. Read More
Crop Protection
June 21, 2017
Certis Bolsters Biopesticide Business Po…
Addition of LAM International to allow for expansion of product development. Read More
Crop Protection
June 21, 2017
Early-Season Scouting Tips for Sweet Cor…
Black cutworm and true armyworm have been caught in relatively high numbers across the Midwest, including Michigan. Learn more about determining risk and scouting in your sweet corn plantings. Read More
Citrus
June 15, 2017
Make Way for Life-Saving Science on Your…
While nature always finds a way to adapt, science continues to find other ways to cope. Read More
Crop Protection
June 12, 2017
Registration Open for Ag Innovations Con…
Event focuses on microbial control strategies. Read More
Crop Protection
June 7, 2017
Field Scouting Guide for Squash Powdery …
Learn how to spot and treat a pest that impacts all cucurbits. Read More
Crop Protection
June 1, 2017
Can Attract-and-Kill Technology Protect …
Since devastating many Mid-Atlantic farms in 2010, this Asian-borne pest continues to cause growers significant headaches. New research, however, may offer insights into treatment options that minimize the use of harsh chemicals. Read More