Bees, Pollinators and Pesticides: An Update From York University's Symposium on Impacts of Systemic pesticides
This piece was published in April, 2016 on our blog.
"The only acceptable dose of these systemic pesticides is just nothing. Zero." Dr. Jean-Marc Bonmartin, Deputy Chairman TFSP.
The Pollinators' Paradise team headed out to York University to attend the Symposium on Impacts of and alternatives to Systemic pesticides: A Science Policy Forum (April 19).
Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, the Honourable Glen Murray launched the day's lecture series. Murray stressed that Ontario government is currently taking "most aggressive action" towards climate change, pointing to two "transformative bills"; the Great Lakes Protection Act and the Low Carbon Economy Act. He talked about Ontario's efforts towards getting to 1.5 degrees Celsius and the work begun to get Ontario to zero waste. Minister Murray talked about how 80% of our food comes from California where there is a severe drought. Making the connection between climate change and water: "Lake Superior has 20% of the world's fresh water but is one of the fastest warming bodies of water," Minister Murray said. "The health of our eco-system is interrelated with food production: "We're growing food in a different climate."
Following this address, Dr. Laurence Packer (York University) took the floor to help us understand popular misconceptions about bees. Blame it on the domesticated honey bee--that's the reason for the confusion. Not many of us know that bees don't make honey, or at least the vast majority of bees don't. That's right. Packer says he likes honey, but isn't it interesting that most of the research dollars to study bee health go to this fraction of the bee population. Discrimination much?
But there is a great diversity of bees. There are over 20,000 described bee species in the world. Ontario has over 300 of these native bees. But they get no credit for the work they do pollinating in fields and such. And yet, greater diversity of wild bee pollinators increases crop yield.
Other misconceptions about bees (once you've properly identified them!): bees are mostly solitary. Most of them are ground nesting, (250 nests per square metres), most are not hardworking (some are cuckoo bees) and more than half of all individual bees can not sting!
What do native bees need to thrive?
Well drained soils (oak savannah/prairie), "no pesticides zone," diversity of habitat (adding wildflower mixes increased bee abundance and diversity.) We need to maintain hot spot habitats. Packer pointed out that wild bees need places where honey bees are excluded (Watch for a post on this!). Minimize beekeeping: "Wild bee abundance and diversity increase with distance from apiaries," Packer said. Southfacing rockery is good.
What can we do in the city? Packer suggests minimizing mulching because bare patches of soil are good for the bees, plantbee-friendlyy flowers (or plants like raspberries. Additional bonus: bees nest in the dead raspberry canes). "Thousands and thousands of bees are being composted. Leave the dead stems alone!" Packer pleads."Spectacularly beautiful," the second edition of Packer's Bees of Toronto: A Guide to their Remarkable World (second edition) is forthcoming.
Task Force on Systemic Pesticides (TFSP).
After Dr. Packer, we heard from biologist and conservationist, Dr. Maarten Bijleveld van Lexmond. While in the south of France, known as a "paradise of bio-diversity," biologist and conservationist, Bijleveld van Lexmond noticed a remarkable decline of insect population in 2003. "There was a true lack of answers from "the other side,""Bijleveld van Lexmond worked with international entomologists and ornithologists and launched the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides (TFSP) in 2009 to address these concerns.
Bijleveld van Lexmond gave us a historical perspective of how TFSP developed into an independent group of scientists from all over the globe, who came together to work on the Worldwide Integrated Assessment of the Impact of Systemic Pesticides on Biodiversity and Ecosystems.The mandate of (TFSP) has been “to carry out a comprehensive, objective, scientific review and assessment of the impact of systemic pesticides on biodiversity, and on the basis of the results of this review to make any recommendations that might be needed with regard to risk management procedures, governmental approval of new pesticides, and any other relevant issues that should be brought to the attention of decision makers, policy developers and society in general." Read more here. **
Dr. Jean-Marc Bonmatin, Deputy Chairman TFSP. (CNRS-Center for Molecular Biophysics (CBM), Orléans, France)
Dr. Jean-Marc Bonmatin took it away from there, discussing the impacts of the agricultural use of neonicotinoid insecticides and their impacts on biodiversity.
Dr. Bonmatin said that 40% of invertebrate species are facing extinction WORLDWIDE. Neonics act on the central nervous system (binding to nACH receptors). Neonics are used in more than 100 products in 100 countries. Systemic pesticides are distributed to every part of the plant. 5,000 to 10,000 more toxic than DDT. So combined with stress from parasites, pesticides and lack of flowers, this "cocktails of pesticides" acts inside and outside of the hive, and what is true for honey bees is true for wild bees." Shockingly, as Dr. Bonmatin pointed out, even the EPA states that in the case of crops like soybeans, there is no difference in soybean yields when treated with neonics as without.
Neonics contaminate soils. Meanwhile, 2 to 20% are taken up by plants. These neonics have a large impact on non-target species. "They are extremely toxic to invertebrates, highly toxic to vertebrates, very high persistence in soils, high concentration of surface water," Dr. Bonmatin said.
In 2013, the European Academies EA SAC (Science Advisory Council) restricted the use of neonics in Europe and surprise! There has been no reduction of yields in production.
Watch a video about the work that the TFSP is doing here.
Dr. Amro Zayed, Department of Biology,York University came on to talk about the magnitude and consequences of systemic pesticide exposure on honey bee health in Canada's corn-growing regions (a 2 year study based in Ontario and Quebec). They put up 60 colonies in total, allocated to sites 3km from corn. They wanted to test pesticide residues. The team sampled larva, nurse bees, collected forgers, collected freshly deposited nectar and pollen from the colony as well as dead bees in the hives. They sampled every one of theses for residue analysis of chemicals. The main finding? Bees faced chronic exposure of neonics, 3-4 months of the growing season. They found neonics mostly in the pollen (main source of exposure). Neonic- positive pollen is mostly from wildflowers. Poisoned oasis? Bee attractive flowers soak up neonics from farmers' fields.
What's more, we have to worry about the interaction of neonics with other chemicals (like boscalid). Neonics ate TWICE as toxic with exposure to neonics. The highlight is that new interaction with boscalid may lead to acute exposure.
"I would love it if there were a public database whenever a farmer applies a pesticide,"Sr. Zayed said.
Nigel Raine (University of Guelph, School of Environmental Science) talked about his research that asks "to what extent exposure to field-realistic levels of pesticides might have significant impacts on individual behaviour and colony success?" His research looks at the combined effects of pesticides on colony development. Results include retarded growth for all pesticide treated bees. Overall, the research found worker-bee losses, colonies expose to memory loss, their reproduction affected. There was reduced flower visitation and pollen collection by colonies after chronic exposure to thiamethoxan. Effects are exacerbated by combined pest exposure. Differential impacts depending on species life history and ecology.
Dr. Elizabeth Lumawig-Heitzmann, Secretary of TFSP Public Health Working Group talked about the use of systemic pesticides in the Philippines. Dr. Heitzmann offered a case study from the Marindugue, the Butterfly capital of the world. She alerted us to the mixing of pesticides (giving them another product name) that are then sold on the market place to be used on crops like bananas, watermelon, mangoes, rice etc. Happily, the government has decided to ban the entry of these pesticides on the Island.
Dr. Kumiko Taira, Chair of TFSP Public Health Working Group (Tokyo Women’s Medical University), talked about human health impacts of exposure to neonicotinoid insecticides. She said neonic pollution in the human body is ubiquitous in Japan. Symptoms of exposure include memory loss, forgetfulness, chest pains, headaches, blurred vision, and more These are endocrine disruptors.
We heard from Dr. David Kreutzweiser, Research Scientist, Canadian Forest Service, Natural Resources Canada about the risks of neonicotinoid insecticides to soil invertebrates. Leaf little falls from neonic-treated trees. Prophylactic (broad) use in agriculture. Very few soil invertebrates have been tested, aside from earthworms. "Dermal exposure could be ten times higher than ingestion," Dr. Kreutzweiser said. "Pervasive and persistent nature of neonics in soils means tests may underestimate actual exposure rates in real world." Interesting aside: worms are actually invasive. Forests evolved without worms).
Other speakers included:
Dr. Lorenzo Furlan. Chairman of TFSP Working Group on Alternatives. Veneto Agricultura, Centre for Agricultural Research in co-operations with the University of Padua, Italy. A new strategy for agriculture without the use of neonicotinoids. Protection of growers by a mutual insurance against pitfalls.
Dr. Charles Vincent, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu Research and Development Centre. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Alternatives to insecticides: a reality check.
Graeme Murphy. Integrated Pest Management and alternatives to systemic pesticide application in Ontario horticulture. IPM and Biological Control Consultant.
**The Task Force has adopted a science-based approach and aims to promote better informedevidence-based, decision-making. The method followed is Integrated Assessment (IA) which
aims to provide policy-relevant but not policy-prescriptive information on key aspects of the
issue at hand. To this end a highly multidisciplinary team of 30 scientists from all over the
globe jointly made a synthesis of 1,121 published peer-reviewed studies spanning the last five
years, including industry-sponsored ones. All publications of the TFSP have been subject to the
standard scientific peer review procedures of the journal
Key findings of the Task Force have been presented in a special issue of the peer-reviewed
Springer journal “Environmental Science and Pollution Research” entitled “Worldwide
Integrated Assessment of the Impacts of Systemic Pesticides on Biodiversity and Ecosystems”
and consists of eight scientific papers reproduced here with permission of Springer.