Harvard Study Strengthens Link between Pesticides and Colony Collapse Disorder
Three new studies released in the past two weeks, including one on April 5 by Harvard University, add to the growing body of evidence that implicate pesticides, specifically *neonicotinoids, as one of the most critical factors contributing to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), bolstering the need for swift regulatory action. The research is timely as beekeepers and environmentalists recently filed an emergency legal petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calling for the suspension of clothianidin, a neonicotinoid pesticide currently under review by the agency. At a time when beekeepers are losing on average, more than one-third of their hives each year, pesticide manufacturers like Bayer are attacking the science in order to delay action by state and federal officials.
One of the new studies released in Science last week shows that sub-lethal neonicotinoid exposure disrupts honeybees' foraging and homing abilities. While another new study shows that environmentally relevant neonicotinoid exposure reduces queen fitness in bumblebees, causing an 85 percent reduction in the number of queens produced. In the Harvard study from the forthcoming issue of the Bulletin of Insectology, researchers found that 94 percent of the hives had died after exposure to a neonicotinoid pesticide called imidacloprid at levels hypothesized by the study team to have been present in high fructose corn syrup since the introduction of neonicotinoids into corn seed treatments in 2004-2005.
These new studies come on the heels of a year of damning evidence for these pesticides: three separate studies in the last year confirmed that low-level exposures to neonicotinoids synergize with a common pathogen to dramatically increase bees' susceptibility to infection and the likelihood of death.
“The weight of the evidence is tipping for neonicotinoids as a critical factor in colony collapse disorder,” said Heather Pilatic, co-director of Pesticide Action Network. “While pesticides are not the only problem for honey bees, we know enough to act.”
Efforts at both the state and federal level to prohibit the use of neonicotinoid pesticides have faced strong opposition from pesticides manufacturers. Corporations like Bayer CropScience, the maker of many neonicotinoid products, have attempted to downplay the science and cast uncertainty on the growing number of studies, while calling for additional research.
“The industry is predictably pushing back by attacking the science,” said John Kepner, program director for Beyond Pesticides. “While we recognize the complexity of the science, we have sufficient scientific basis for taking immediate protective action.”
Nine years ago, scientists within the EPA required a field study examining the potential harms of the neonicotinoid pesticide clothianidin to non-target insects - specifically honey bees—because they had reason to believe the pesticide may harm pollinators. While all neonicotinoid pesticides are toxic to bees and have a similar mode of action, EPA had not previously required such a field study as part of its registration process. Under pressure from manufacturers like Bayer, EPA granted a conditional, or temporary, registration to clothianidin in 2003. The registration was contingent upon the subsequent submission of an acceptable field study, but this requirement has not been met.
In 2010 when it became clear that EPA considered Bayer’s field study to be flawed, beekeeper and environmental organizations wrote to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson urging immediate action. The lack of agency response motivated the filing of the formal legal petition two weeks ago to suspend further use of clothianidin and adopt safeguards to ensure similar future pesticides are not approved by the agency. Beekeepers cite colony loses of at least 30 percent each year, costing rural agricultural economies millions of dollars.
“EPA should move swiftly to close the loophole and revoke the conditional registration of clothianidin,” said Peter Jenkins, an attorney for the Center for Food Safety. “Bees and beekeepers can’t afford to wait for more industry misinformation and agency inaction.”
Progress on protecting bees from neonicotinoids isn’t for lack of trying. California elected officials and rural groups for their part, recognizing the urgency, are calling on their state agencies to suspend the use of neonicotinoid pesticides. A bill on the subject will be taken up in the legislature early next month.
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*Neonicotinoids are a relatively new class of systemic, neurotoxic pesticides that are known to be particularly toxic to honey bees and have rapidly taken over the global insecticide market since their introduction in the 1990s. Neonicotinoids (like imidacloprid and its successor product clothianidin) are used as seed treatments in hundreds of crops from corn to almonds, as well as in lawn care and flea products. These products persist for years in the soil, and, as systemics, permeate the plants to which they are applied to be expressed as pollen, nectar and guttation droplets (like pesticide dew). Honey bee exposure to this class of pesticides is widespread and in the U.S. the rate of seed treatment with these insecticides increased five-fold around the same time CCD hit the U.S.
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Human actions have taken a steep toll on whales and dolphins. Some studies estimate that small whale abundance, which includes dolphins, has fallen 87% since 1980 and thousands of whales die from rope entanglement annually. But humans also cause less obvious harm. Researchers have found changes in the stress levels, reproductive health and respiratory health of these animals, but this valuable data is extremely hard to collect.
Researchers work with trained dolphins to learn more about their sensory abilities, seen here testing a dolphin's hearing. Jason Bruck / CC BY-ND
A Lot to Learn From Hormones<p>When sampling the blow, we are looking for hormones in mucus as these can be used to gauge psychological and physiological health. We are specifically interested in <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0114062" target="_blank">hormones like cortisol</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ygcen.2018.04.003" target="_blank">progesterone</a>, which indicate stress levels and reproductive ability respectively, but can also help determine overall health.</p><p>Additionally, blow samples can detect <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1128%2FmSystems.00119-17" target="_blank">respiratory pathogens</a> in the lungs or nasal passages - blowholes evolved from noses after all.</p><p>This health analysis is especially important in areas with oil spills as the chemicals can cause hormonal problems that harm <a href="https://www.carmmha.org/investigating-how-oil-spills-affect-dolphins-and-whales/" target="_blank">development, metabolism and reproduction</a> in dolphins.</p><p>Hormone samples can provide scientists with valuable data, but collecting them from intelligent and unpredictable animals is challenging.</p>
Cetacean Collaborators<p>To build a drone that can stealthily collect spray from moving dolphins, we needed more data on their eyesight and hearing, and this is data that couldn't be collected in the wild nor simulated in a lab.</p><p>We worked with dolphins at facilities like Dolphin Quest in Bermuda, which provides guests opportunities to learn about dolphins while allowing <a href="https://dolphinquest.com/about-us/our-story/" target="_blank">scientists access to animals for noninvasive research</a>. Here the dolphins can swim away if they choose not to work with us, so we had to design the study like a game; the way a kindergarten teacher entertains a class. If the dolphins aren't interested, we don't get to do the science.</p><p>Over the course of hundreds of sessions, we sought to answer two questions: What can dolphins hear and what can they see around their heads?</p><p>To test dolphin hearing, we set up microphones and cameras to record dolphin behavior as we played drone noise in the air. We analyzed the responses to each noise – such as how many dolphins looked at the speaker – and used these as a proxy for their ability to hear the sounds.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5f31daf07a652b8d64a093b993ee4e96"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UjmQeH3vXHI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Robodolphin doesn't look like a real dolphin, but it doesn't need to in order to train our drone pilots. C.J. Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND<p>To build robodolphin, we worked with dolphins trained to "chuff" or sneeze on command to measure spray characteristics. We used high-speed photography to see the dolphins' breath as it moved through the air. Then we conducted high resolution CT scans of a dolphin head and 3D-printed a replica of a nasal passage.</p><p>Now, we have a complete robodolphin and are tweaking its sprays to be nearly identical to the real thing. This will allow us to determine how close we need to get to collect the samples, and therefore, how quiet our drone needs to be.</p>
The replica dolphin blowhole was designed from a scan of a real blowhole passage, and the spray it produces closely matches the real thing. Alvin Ngo, Mitch Ford and CJ Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND
A Bit of Practice, Then Into the Wild<p>In the next few months, we will test flights over robodolphin with existing drones to determine the timing and strategy for collection. From there, we will fabricate a low-noise drone that can fly fast enough and with sufficient maneuverability to capture samples from wild dolphins. Like a video game, we will use the visual field data to develop approach trajectories to stay in the visual blindspots.</p><p>We plan to test our drones on a truck-mounted robodolphin moving down a runway, then using a boat to simulate realistic conditions. The next steps will involve ocean testing with dolphins trained for open ocean swimming. These tests will determine if our devices can catch and hold the hormones as the drone flies back to a researcher's boat.</p><p>Finally, we will deploy the system to collect data on wild dolphins. Our first goal is to test resident dolphins – animals that live on the coasts and deal directly with boat and oil industry noise – which will allow us to learn more about stress resulting from human impacts.</p><p>Those samples are a way off, but if all goes well we will have a specially built drone capable of flying long distances and capturing samples undetected in a few years. The samples collected will allow researchers to do better science with impact on the animals they study.</p>
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Billions worth of valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper were dumped or burned last year as electronic waste produced globally jumped to a record 53.6 million tons (Mt), or 7.3 kilogram per person, a UN report showed on Thursday.
Environmental and Health Hazard<p>Experts say e-waste, which is now the world's fastest-growing domestic waste stream, poses serious environmental and health risks.</p><p>Simply throwing away electronic items without ensuring they get properly recycled leads to the loss of key materials such as iron, copper and gold, which can otherwise be recovered and used as primary raw materials to make new equipment, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions from extraction and refinement of raw materials.</p><p>Refrigerants found in electronic equipment such as fridge and air conditioners also contribute to global warming. A total of 98 Mt of CO2-equivalents, or about 0.3% of global energy-related emissions, were released into the atmosphere in 2019 from discarded refrigerators and ACs that were not recycled properly, the report said.</p><p>E-waste contains several toxic additives or hazardous substances, such as mercury and brominated flame retardants (BFR), and simply burning it or throwing it away could lead to serious health issues. Several studies have linked unregulated recycling of e-waste to adverse birth outcomes like stillbirth and premature birth, damages to the human brain or nervous system and in some cases hearing loss and heart troubles.</p><p>"Informal and improper e-waste recycling is a major emerging hazard silently affecting our health and that of future generations. One in four children are dying from avoidable environmental exposures," said Maria Neira, director of the Environment, Climate Change and Health Department at the World Health Organization. "One in four children could be saved, if we take action to protect their health and ensure a safe environment."</p>
Europe Leads the Way<p>While most of the e-waste was generated in Asia (24.9 Mt) in 2019, Europe led the charts on a per person basis with 16.2 kg per capita, the report said.</p><p>But the continent also recorded the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/the-eu-declares-war-on-e-waste/a-51108790" target="_blank">highest documented formal e-waste collection and recycling</a> rate at 42.5%, still below its target of 65%. Europe was well ahead of the others on this front. Asia ranked second with 11.7%.</p><p>The authors said while more that 70% of the world's population was covered by some form of e-waste policy or laws, not much was being done toward implementation and enforcement of the regulations to encourage the take-up of a collection and recycling infrastructure due to lack of investment and political motivation.</p><p>"You have to think about new economic systems," said Kühr.</p><p>One approach could be that consumers no longer buy the products, but only the service they offer. The device would remain the property of the maker, who would then have an interest in offering his customers the best service and the necessary equipment. The maker would also be interested in designing his products in such a way that they are easier to repair and easier to recycle, Kühr said.</p>
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