Four pesticides commonly used on crops to kill insects and fungi also kill honeybee larvae within their hives, according to Penn State and University of Florida researchers. The team also found that N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP)—an inert, or inactive, chemical commonly used as a pesticide additive—is highly toxic to honeybee larvae.
“We found that four of the pesticides most commonly found in beehives kill bee larvae,” said Jim Frazier, professor of entomology, Penn State. “We also found that the negative effects of these pesticides are sometimes greater when the pesticides occur in combinations within the hive. Since pesticide safety is judged almost entirely on adult honeybee sensitivity to individual pesticides and also does not consider mixtures of pesticides, the risk assessment process that the Environmental Protection Agency uses should be changed.”
According to Frazier, the team’s previous research demonstrated that forager bees bring back to the hive an average of six different pesticides on the pollen they collect. Nurse bees use this pollen to make beebread, which they then feed to honeybee larvae.
To examine the effects of four common pesticides—fluvalinate, coumaphos, chlorothalonil and chlorpyrifos—on bee larvae, the researchers reared honeybee larvae in their laboratory. They then applied the pesticides alone and in all combinations to the beebread to determine whether these insecticides and fungicides act alone or in concert to create a toxic environment for honeybee growth and development.
The researchers also investigated the effects of NMP on honeybee larvae by adding seven concentrations of the chemical to a pollen-derived, royal jelly diet. NMP is used to dissolve pesticides into formulations that then allow the active ingredients to spread and penetrate the plant or animal surfaces onto which they are applied. The team fed their treated diet, containing various types and concentrations of chemicals, to the laboratory-raised bee larvae.
The team’s results are reported in the current issue of PLoS ONE.
“We found that mixtures of pesticides can have greater consequences for larval toxicity than one would expect from individual pesticides,” Frazier said.
Among the four pesticides, honeybee larvae were most sensitive to chlorothalonil. They also were negatively affected by a mixture of chlorothalonil with fluvalinate. In addition, the larvae were sensitive to the combination of chlorothalonil with the miticide coumaphos. In contrast, the addition of coumaphos significantly reduced the toxicity of the fluvalinate and chlorothalonil mixture.