Widespread Use of Neonicotinoids Poses Risks to More Than Bees
A report released this week by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation moves the spotlight from the risks neonicotinoids pose to bees to the impacts of neonicotinoids to invertebrates such as earthworms or lady beetles.
Beyond the Birds and the Bees provides a comprehensive review of published articles and pulls together the growing body of research that demonstrates risks from neonicotinoids to these beneficial insects. These risks occur particularly in agricultural systems, but are also found in urban and suburban ornamental landscapes.
Findings from the Review:
- Although neonicotinoids have been promoted as safer for beneficial insects than older insecticides, the balance of evidence suggests that neonicotinoids are generally harmful to a variety of beneficial insects.
- Widespread preemptive application of neonicotinoids (or any pesticide) represents a fundamental shift away from Integrated Pest Management, since chemicals are frequently applied before pest damage has occurred, and often in the absence of any current pest abundance data.
- Use of neonicotinoid seed treatments on annual field crops has increased dramatically in the last decade yet these treatments may not consistently result in yield benefits and can be less cost effective than other control measures.
- Though neonicotinoid seed treatments may be unnecessary or more expensive than other treatments in some circumstances, it is very challenging for farmers to obtain non-organic field crop seed that is not treated with neonicotinoids.
- Neonicotinoid resistance has been documented in a number of pests, including green peach aphid, whitefly, and Colorado potato beetle. The environmental persistence of neonicotinoids such as imidacloprid and clothianidin, coupled with their widespread use, can facilitate pest resistance.
- Although there has been less research on the impact of neonicotinoids to soil organisms, most studies to date have found that neonicotinoids may have negative effects on earthworms and other soil invertebrates.
Although less charismatic than bees, beneficial insects such as beetles and wasps play critical roles in healthy, functioning ecosystems. For example, predatory and parasitic insects and other arthropods provide natural pest suppression to farms—an ecosystem service conservatively valued at more than $4.5 billion annually—as well as to natural areas and developed landscapes.
Neonicotinoids are now the most widely used group of insecticides in the world, and their use in the U.S. has been steadily increasing since their initial registration in the mid-1990s. Neonicotinoids have been promoted as low-risk chemicals: low impact on human health, low toxicity to nontarget organisms, lower application rates and compatibility with Integrated Pest Management. Unfortunately, the many studies completed since these compounds began being used have not born out the validity of these assumptions.
Based on the Findings, Xerces Society's Recommendations:
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should re-assess the ecological safety of currently approved neonicotinoids and immediately suspend registration of imidacloprid, clothianidin, thiamethoxam and dinotefuran for all applications where there is a risk to nontarget organisms.
- The U.S. EPA should significantly speed up the registration review process for neonicotinoids. The risk from exposure to neonicotinoid insecticides needs to be scientifically evaluated against the risk posed to beneficial species by alternative control measures.
- The U.S. EPA should expand the number of nontarget terrestrial insect species used in the risk assessment process.
- The U.S. EPA should adopt risk assessment protocols for exposure to nontarget insects that account for cumulative and synergistic effects, effects of long-term exposure to low concentrations, and exposure to pesticides through pollen and nectar.
- The USDA Risk Management Agency’s Federal Crop Insurance Corporation should approve reductions in crop insurance premiums for producers who avoid prophylactic use of neonicotinoids where the pest pressure does not warrant use.
- The prophylactic use of neonicotinoids on crops should be halted. Neonicotinoids should only be used as part of an Integrated Pest Management plan.
- The use of neonicotinoids for cosmetic reasons (such as against aphids in parks and gardens) rather than economic reasons should be banned on city- and county-owned lands.
Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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