Advantage? Not for Bees, Perhaps

A recent study published in the Journal of Toxicology has revealed higher levels of environmental persistence and sensitivity of bees to Imidacloprid, the active in Advantage and Advantix, than previously thought.

bee eye

It appears the neonicotinoid family of insecticides, typically targeting insects infesting our plants and animals, can persist in soil and water leading to problems of cumulative toxicity to non-target species.

For the last decade scientists have been struggling to explain precipitous declines in bee populations in Europe and North America, now well-known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Overuse of pesticides has been long-suspected,  but this is the first time a particular family of chemicals and mechanism has been fingered.

For some time the bee mite, Verroa Destructor, had been associated with CCD, although it was uncertain if the parasite was merely an opportunistic marker of a hive already stressed by another factor. Other theories have included hive stress due to commercial overuse, and electromagnetic pollution especially in geographic areas of high mobile phone density, where CCD was worst.

While reassuring, the lack of evidence of CCD in Australia has been a point of enquiry: was  there an environmental or infectious agent locally absent, sparing our hives? If the neonicotinoid insecticides are confirmed as the culprit, our bees may have just been lucky.

These agents are commonly used here, on pets to control fleas and ticks, but far more extensively on agricultural crops. The health of Australian hives will undoubtedly be cited by  Bayer when defending accusations against it’s product.

Other epidemiologic factors that may reduce the impact of these insecticides on Australian hives include bee population densities, and their relationship to patterns of overspray and water dispersal. Several EU countries have banned neonicotinoid insecticides, although other government agencies are awaiting supportive research.

It’s likely CCD may yet prove to be a multifactorial process.  It’s definition is crude: simply largescale abandoment of the hive and queen by it’s worker bees. The countless thousands of subtle chemical, social, and ecologic interactions that affect hive health and cohesion are poorly studied.

Our cities are ‘human hives’. The disbandment of our colonies has be associated with the conflagration of a number if ills, incuding pollution, resource scarcity, communicable disease and social breakdown. You can expect failure of a bee hive may be no less complex.

What to do? If you’re a bee keeper, or wish minimise harm to our precious pollinators, it’s probably worthwhile avoiding this family of insecticides altogether. You may be choosing the lesser of two evils, however, as there’s plenty of evidence of collateral damage caused by other agents: OP’s are highly toxic to aquatic ecosystems and may annihilate the native fish population of your dam.

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