New York: Some fungicides, often regarded as safe for bees, could be a major contributor to honey bee colony losses, and the number of different pesticides within a colony -- regardless of dose -- closely correlates with colony deaths, suggests new research.
"Our results fly in the face of one of the basic tenets of toxicology: that the dose makes the poison," said senior author of the study Dennis van Engelsdorp, Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland in the US.
"We found that the number of different compounds was highly predictive of colony deaths, which suggests that the addition of more compounds somehow overwhelms the bees' ability to detoxify themselves," van Engelsdorp noted.
The researchers followed 91 honey bee colonies in the US, owned by three different migratory commercial beekeepers, for an entire agricultural season.
The colonies began their journey in Florida and moved up the East Coast, providing pollination services for different crops along the way.
A total of 93 different pesticide compounds found their way into the colonies over the course of the season, accumulating in the wax, in processed pollen known as bee bread and in the bodies of nurse bees.
The study, published online in the journal Scientific Reports, showed that colonies with very low pesticide contamination in the wax experienced no queen events or colony death, while all colonies with high pesticide contamination in the wax lost a queen during the beekeeping season.
The study results also suggest that some fungicides, which have led to the mortality of honey bee larvae in lab studies, could have toxic effects on colony survival in the field.
In the current study, pesticides with a particular mode of action also corresponded to higher colony mortality.
For example, the fungicides most closely linked to queen deaths and colony mortality disrupted sterols -- compounds that are essential for fungal development and survival.
"We were surprised to find such an abundance of fungicides inside the hives, but it was even more surprising to find that fungicides are linked to imminent colony mortality," lead author on the study Kirsten Traynor from the University of Maryland said.
"These compounds have long been thought to be safe for bees," Traynor noted.