First study showing pesticide exposure can affect crop pollination by bees

18 November 2015

A new study shows neonicotinoid pesticide exposure impairs the pollination services provided by bumblebees.

Bumblebee on a flower

The study, funded by NERC in partnership with the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), the Scottish Government and the Wellcome Trust, is the first to show the effect of neonicotinoid pesticides on pollination services.

Bees are vital pollinators of important food crops such as oil seed rape, green beans and apples, but their numbers have been declining in recent years. As such, previous research has focused on the effects of pesticides on bees, rather than the pollination services they provide.

The study, published today in Nature - external link, shows bumblebee colonies exposed to pesticides collected less pollen and made fewer visits to apple flowers. This led apple trees to produce 36% less seeds, a factor closely associated with fruit quality in many apple varieties, showing a negative impact on a crop of global economic importance.

Lead author Dr Dara Stanley from the Royal Holloway, University of London, said:

We found effects of neonicotinoid pesticide exposure on crop pollination services provided by bumblebees at the colony level. To our knowledge this is the first study to examine the impacts of pesticides not just on bees themselves, but on the crucial pollination services they provide to crops and wild plants.

The researchers from the Royal Holloway, the University of Reading and the University of Guelph (Canada), looked at three groups of bumblebees exposed to varying levels of neonicotinoid pesticides in artificial nectar for 13 days. Two groups were exposed to levels of pesticides realistically found in agriculture environments, and the control group was exposed to a sugar solution containing no pesticides.


Further information

Karen Christian
NERC media office
01793 411568


Notes

1. NERC is the UK's main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. Our work covers the full range of atmospheric, Earth, biological, terrestrial and aquatic science, from the deep oceans to the upper atmosphere and from the poles to the equator. We coordinate some of the world's most exciting research projects, tackling major issues such as climate change, environmental influences on human health, the genetic make-up of life on Earth, and much more. NERC is a non-departmental public body. We receive around £330 million of annual funding from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS). This year marks NERC's 50th anniversary.

2. The Insect Pollinators Initiative - external link is joint-funded by NERC, BBSRC, Defra, the Scottish Government and the Wellcome Trust. It is managed under the auspices of the Living With Environmental Change (LWEC) partnership.