Major New Study Shows Pesticide Risk to Honey Bees
By Joe Sandler Clarke
Scientists have found for the first time that neonicotinoid pesticides can harm honey bees in the real world.
The major new study from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) found that pesticides called neonicotinoids can cause harm to bees, a development that is likely to increase calls for a ban of the chemicals across Europe.
The UK—which has long lobbied against a ban—could make its own rules on pesticide use after Brexit.
Conservative MEP Julie Girling recently tried unsuccessfully to derail the Commission's efforts to introduce an outright ban in the EU Parliament.
The finding is particularly significant because the study was funded in part by pesticides giants Bayer and Syngenta.
The hotly anticipated research, published in the journal Science this evening, also discovered that exposure to the nicotine-based chemicals can reduce the reproductive success of three different bee species—honey bees, bumblebees and the red mason bee.
With £3 million in funding from the chemical companies and additional money from Natural Environment Research Council, the researchers were able to conduct a large scale, field-realistic experiment across three different European countries—UK, Germany and Hungary.
Previous experiments showing that neonicotinoids cause harm to bees have been criticised by industry because of their limited scope and test conditions not mimicking real life.
The researchers exposed three bee species to winter oilseed rape crops treated with two types of neonicotinoids, manufactured by Bayer and Syngenta.
The researchers found that neonics affected bees in different ways from country to country, with the impact of the chemicals more marked in Hungary and the UK than in Germany, where neonics were found to have no impact on honey bees.
Overall, clothianidin, manufactured by Bayer, was found to have a more profound impact on bee health.
CEH scientists acknowledged that the results of the study were nuanced.
In a press release, CEH lead author Dr. Ben Woodcock explained: "The neonicotinoids investigated caused a reduced capacity for all three bee species to establish new populations in the following year, at least in the UK and Hungary."
Prof. Richard Pywell, the co-author of the study, said in a statement that the results of the research were complex.
"Neonicotinoids remain a highly contentious issue with previous research on both honeybees and wild bees inconclusive.
"This latest field study was designed, as far as possible, to reflect the real world due to its size and scope. We therefore believe it goes a considerable way to explaining the inconsistencies in the results of past research, as we were better able to account for natural variation in factors like exposure to the pesticide, bee food resources and bee health for different bee species.
"Our findings also raise important questions about the basis for regulatory testing of future pesticides."
A Bayer spokesperson told Energydesk the company was disappointed with way the results had been presented.
He said: "This study is one of a number of landscape studies carried out recently. The results of the CEH study are inconsistent and therefore inconclusive with variability of effects over both the bee species and the countries in which they were studied.
"We believe that had environmental factors (colony strength and landscape effects) other than exposure to treated oilseed rape been appropriately taken into account in the analysis, the results would have been similar to, for example, recent landscape studies conducted with clothianidin in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, a state in northern Germany which demonstrated the safety of clothianidin seed treatments in oilseed rape for bee pollinators under realistic conditions."
In a statement sent to Energydesk, Syngenta were keen to highlight the findings of the study in Germany where neonics had no impact on honey bees.
Dr. Peter Campbell, head of research collaborations at the company said: "We welcome the fact that the study concludes that 'neonicotinoid residues were detected infrequently ... [and] direct mortality effects by exposure to high concentrations of neonicotinoids are likely to be rare'. We were also pleased to see that in Germany during crop flowering, the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments has a positive and beneficial impact for both honeybees and bumblebees."
The statement continued: "It is also important to better understand the small number of potentially harmful effects reported in Hungary and the United Kingdom and how these differ from Germany where the results were positive."
Neonicotinoids are the most widely used pesticides in the world.
A partial ban on neonicotinoids has been in place across the EU since 2013, due to concerns about the pesticide's impact on bee health.
Recent news reports suggest that the European Commission will call for a complete ban later this year.
The UK has long lobbied against the ban against neonics in Brussels. Back in 2015, the government allowed some uses of the chemicals on UK fields, following pressure from the National Farmers Union, but a similar request was turned down last year.
Uncertainty surrounds what the UK's position will be on the controversial pesticides post-Brexit.
In response to the release of the CEH study, a spokesperson from Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs failed to back an outright ban:
"Bees and other pollinators are vital to the diversity of our environment and food production which is why we are leading a nationwide strategy to better protect them.
"We are encouraging farmers to provide the food and habitats pollinators need on their land, as well as promoting simple actions the public can take to help such as cutting grass less often and growing pollen-rich plants."
This study follows on from research published last summer by CEH, which linked neonics to the long-term decline of the wild bee population in the UK.
Back in September, Energydesk uncovered private studies commissioned by Bayer and Syngenta which showed that their neonicotinoid pesticides can cause serious harm to bees.
The U.S. District Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 Tuesday saying that the Federal Environmental Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) failed to adequately review the environmental impacts of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the fracked gas Sabal Trail pipeline, which runs more than 500 miles through Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
As ocean waters warm and acidify, corals across the globe are disappearing. Desperate to prevent the demise of these vital ecosystems, researchers have developed ways to "garden" corals, buying the oceans some much-needed time. University of Miami Rosenstiel School marine biologist Diego Lirman sat down with Josh Chamot of Nexus Media to describe the process and explain what's at stake. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What is killing coral?
I wish we had an easy, straightforward answer for what's killing corals. We know there are many, many different factors influencing coral abundance, diversity, distribution and health these days, but I think the specific answer varies based on where you are.
Temperatures play a major role at global scales, and then you have all of these other, more local factors like disease, physical impacts of storms, or ship groundings.
Researcher Stephanie Schopmeyer prepares to out-plant Staghorn coral onto a Miami reef. Rescue-A-Reef, UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
We had the dredging of the Port of Miami channel a couple of years ago and that caused a lot of localized mortality due to sediment burial and sediment stress. You also have land-based sources of pollution that can damage by location and nutrient influence that causes algal overgrowth of corals.
Local factors are superimposed on regional factors directly related to global climate change. Changes in temperature, more temperature extremes, acidification of the water, changes in storm frequency and sea level rise— all are at different scales — but they all combine to cause coral mortality.
Factors vary both spatially and temporally, but the outcomes are all the same. Regardless of where you are, we've lost a tremendous amount of coral.
Nursery-raised Staghorn coral out-planted onto a reef by a citizen scientist.
In the face of all those threats, can restoration work?
Historically, restoration was developed and used for acute disturbances. A ship runs aground, and so then there's a recovery, and funds are allocated to recovering the reef structure at a given location, and then corals are planted on top of that. But as global conditions decline for coral reefs, there's now a need to scale up. So, we're not just dealing with the localized impact—we're looking at species declining throughout their range.
We need other tools at larger scales, and that's where coral reef gardening has come into play, because it works at larger scales compared to just dumping cement and rebuilding reef structures, costly endeavors that recover just a very small footprint. We're growing and planting these organisms.
Do you worry about planted coral dominating the reefs?
Initially, these techniques were developed for fast-growing corals. The genus that we're focusing on, Acropora, is threatened, so these are very important reef-building species.
When abundant, they monopolize shallow environments. They form thickets, extensive areas of high-density colonies. That's the way they used to grow, until about three to four decades ago when they got wiped out by disease and other factors. The branching corals that we're working with grow between 10 and 15 cm per branch per year, so that's very fast growth.
Through recent advances in coral aquaculture, we're now also able to grow massive species, the ones that grow very slowly. Mote Marine Lab has developed microfragmentation techniques where they can cut coral colonies very, very small and make them grow very, very fast. Although we focused on branching corals initially, now most of the programs, especially here in Florida, are expanding onto other threatened species.
Citizen scientists plant coral. Rescue-A-Reef, UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
Can these efforts solve the problem, or are they a placeholder until climate stabilizes?
You hit the nail on the head. One of the early criticisms of reef restoration was the scale issue and spending a lot of resources working on a very small footprint.
We've dealt with that now, over the past 10 years we've expanded to the point where we're growing thousands and thousands of corals—we're planting thousands and thousands of corals—so that issue of scale is no longer a valid criticism.
The other major criticism is that, even though we're planting a lot of corals, we're planting them onto environments where the same stressors that caused their initial mortality are in place. Now there is ocean acidification and increased temperatures, so things have gotten, in some cases, progressively worse.
Staghorn corals create a sustainable source of corals for use in restoration. Rescue-A-Reef, UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
That is a valid concern if we were just planting corals, but we're not just doing that. We're still concentrating on all of the other aspects of reef restoration, setting up marine protected areas to protect fish stocks and coral impacts, working to curb land-based sources of pollution, and setting up sedimentation and nutrient controls. And then, on a much larger scale, we're all trying to curb carbon emissions, trying to limit the greenhouse impacts and acidification impacts. All these tools just help us buy time.
We're also doing a lot of genomics work to see how corals can increase their resilience. A colleague of mine here at the Rosenstiel School at University of Miami, Andrew Baker, is stress-hardening corals. He works on coral symbiosis, and he found that by applying a little bit of non-lethal stress, he can make corals shuffle their Zooxanthellae, which are the endosymbiotic microalgae that provide energy to the corals. In that process, they're able to uptake Zooxanthellae that are more thermally tolerant. So, through the forced shuffling of symbionts, you may be able to buy these corals one or two degrees of tolerance, so that they become more tolerant to bleaching in future years. That is cutting-edge science.
We're trying to actually find out what makes corals survive, and trying to beef up their defenses and their resilience over time. And that's because we have access to all these coral genotypes through the active propagation from coral gardening.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
By Karen Perry Stillerman
This job has responsibility for scientific integrity at the USDA, as well as oversight of the department's various research arms and multi-billion dollar annual investments in agricultural research and education that are essential to farmers and eaters alike.
The Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club lodged formal comments with the federal government Monday opposing a massive gas fracking project that spans 220 square miles of public land in Wyoming south of Yellowstone National Park.
The Normally Pressured Lance gas field would destroy wildlife habitat and worsen ozone pollution, a major cause of childhood asthma, in areas already suffering from extreme air pollution.
Sierra received complete surveys from a record-breaking 227 schools—in 36 states, the District of Columbia, and for the first time ever, Canada.
By Andy Rowell
The decades-long struggle for social and environmental justice in the Niger Delta continues, largely unseen by the wider world.
On Aug. 11, hundreds of people from the Niger Delta stormed the Belema flow station gas plant owned by Shell in the Rivers State region of the Delta. The plant transports crude oil to the Bonny Light export terminal, from where it is shipped overseas.
The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine said in a statement the Interior Department has directed it to cease its study on the potential health risks for people living near surface coal mines in Central Appalachia.
The Interior Department, which committed more than $1 million to the study last year, has begun an agency-wide review of grants over $100,000 because of the "Department's changing budget situation."