While we generally don’t have too big of a liking for insects, the fact that some of them are vital to our sustained feeding is becoming more and more obvious. I’m talking of course about pollinators, without which many of our food sources would be almost entirely gone. But as it happens with most things vital to our survival, they are in danger of dying out.
As more and more of these helpful insects are beginning to be affected by diseases or simply to die off, experts are looking into the reasons as to why this is happening. As expected, pesticides are a huge cause of torment to these critters, having many unwanted side-effects on the innocent creatures.
According to a study from the Royal Holloway University of London, bees are affected even by low quantities of pesticides. There are multiple ways in which the flying honey farmers are affected by even low amounts of pesticides, but their learning abilities seem to take the biggest blow.
In the study, bumblebees were exposed to small, yet realistic quantities of thiamethoxam, a neonicotinoid insecticide, in order for the researchers to see how it affected them. The results weren’t really encouraging, pretty much as expected.
According to Professor Nigel Raine from the University of Guelph in Canada,
Bees rely on learning to locate flowers, track their profitability and work-out how best to efficiently extract nectar and pollen. If exposure to low levels of pesticide affects their ability to learn, bees may struggle to collect food and impair the essential pollination services they provide to both crops and wild plants.
Our results suggest that current levels of pesticide-exposure could be significantly affecting how bees are interacting with wild-plants, and impairing the crucial pollination services they provide that support healthy ecosystem function.
Because neonicotinoid insecticides are known to cause changes in the brain, especially in the areas related to learning and memory, the affected bees were seen to have different behavioral patterns than the regular ones – particularly, they collected more nectar from each flower, but they took a longer time and they didn’t really seem to learn anything about the flower’s location.
According to the study’s lead researcher, Dr. Dara Stanley of the Royal Holloway University of London,
Bumblebees exposed to pesticide initially foraged faster and collected more pollen. However unexposed (control) bees may be investing more time and energy in learning. Our findings have important implications for society and the economy as pollinating insects are vital to support agriculture and wild plant biodiversity.
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