This feature is a
continuation of an article by Dr Rosemary Mason and Palle Uhd Jepsen.
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In 1991, the first of a group of novel insecticides was introduced; the systemic neonicotinoids. They started to replace many of the older insecticides. Their sales escalated (see below), so now in 2011 they occupy a dominant position in the global pesticide market.
Amphibians, particularly tadpoles,
are considered to be an environmental indicator because of their unique
sensitivity to pollutants. In the US in 2001, there were reports of wild
frogs with grotesque limb deformities in at least 43 US States and five
Canadian provinces in areas of pesticide run-off. Kiesecker (2002)
found that atrazine (herbicide) and malathion (pesticide) made frogs
more susceptible to a parasite, a burrowing trematode worm, which
affected tadpoles . Even very low levels of exposure (“at
concentrations considered safe for drinking water by the US
Environmental Protection Agency”) could produce “dramatic effects on the
immune response of the animals”. Field studies showed “considerably
higher rates of limb deformities where there was pesticide exposure”. At
that time, the systemic neonicotinoid insecticides were (and still are)
‘beneath the radar’, since they do not feature in the 2009 US
Geological Survey (USGS) National Water-Quality Assessment Program
(NAWQA) Report: Pesticide Trends in Corn Belt Streams and Rivers
(1996-2006) . The USGS authors of the Report said: “The declines in
pesticide concentrations closely followed the declines in their annual
applications, indicating that reduced pesticide use is an effective and
reliable strategy for reducing pesticides contamination in streams.” One
of the first national studies on the presence of pesticides in
ground-water had been published in 2008 . Laura Bexfield who
conducted the data analysis said: “The results of this study are
encouraging for the future state of the nation’s ground-water quality
with respect to pesticides”... “Despite sustained use of many popular
pesticides and the introduction of new ones, results did not indicate
increasing detection rates or concentrations in shallow drinking water
resources over the 10 years studied”. The authors of both reports
expressed satisfaction with the results because they were (mistakenly)
under the impression that pesticide use was decreasing and that the
reduction in pesticides in ground-water was commendable. However, the
chemicals that NAWQA were measuring were only those that they knew
about. Imidacloprid, thiomethoxam and clothianidin do not appear in the
USGS list of monitored pesticides . The US Environmental Protection
Agency was not measuring neonicotinoid levels either.
In 2001, in response to claims in a pesticide fact sheet by Cox, Bayer experts from different scientific fields had issued a ‘position paper’ on imidacloprid: “The use of imidacloprid in agriculture does not entail unacceptable harmful effects for the environment as the substance will disappear under all circumstances from the compartments soil, water and air” . However, contrary to Bayer’s claims, in Europe Tennekes [1,2] and Van Dijk  showed that measurements of imidacloprid in surface water by Dutch Water Boards in intensively-farmed areas of the Netherlands had been steadily increasing (in some areas to more than five times the MTR) and that the levels were inversely correlated with declines in Diptera flying insect species. (The Maximum Tolerable Risk (MTR) norm is an ecotoxicological standard for general environmental quality and the minimum quality level that is desirable for all surface water in the Netherlands. The MTR-value for a substance is the environmental concentration of that substance, at which the species in an ecosystem are safe from effects caused by the substance.)
two other pathogens were described in amphibians in the journal
Emerging Infectious Diseases; the chytrid fungus and the ranavirus .
In 2000, the significance of these new infections on biodiversity and
human health was starting to be discussed . Soon, two species of
once common frogs that had inhabited the thousands of lakes and ponds in
California’s Sierra Nevada were being wiped out by chytridiomycosis, a
disease caused by the pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd).
Vredenburg et al. (2010)  described the progress of the infection in
a study area that comprised three lake basins separated by 20-50 km. At
the beginning of the study they found no evidence of chytridiomycosis
in the frog populations in these three basins. However, the three were
immediately adjacent to basins where frogs had been recently infected
and had died from the disease. Bd. was first detected in the smallest
basin in June 2004 and in the two larger basins in August 2004 and July
2005 respectively. It took only one year to spread to virtually all the
frog populations in the small basin and 3-5 years in the other two. The
scientists followed the pattern and rate of spread in one of the basins.
They concluded that Bd. was a novel pathogen spreading through naïve
host populations. However, it did not appear to obey the epidemiological
theory that a pathogen should fade out when the host population is
driven below some threshold density. (In fact Bd. repeatedly led to
extinction of local frog populations over the next 5 years). For the
decade after they were first reported, these two pathogens, chytrid
fungus and ranavirus had between them caused mass deaths across the US
in a wide variety of amphibian populations. By 2007 they had been
detected in six continents . In 2010, it was reported that there was
still “no cure yet for the chytrid fungus which is devastating frog
populations”. In 2011, a joint study from four centres (Copenhagen,
Spain, Portugal and the US) showed that amphibian population declines
far exceed those of other vertebrate groups, with 30% of all species
listed as threatened by the International Union for Nature Conservation.
They thought the probable causes of these declines included climate
change, land-use change and spread of the pathogenic fungal disease
chytridiomycosis . However, the WWF Living Planet Report 2010 has
shown that biodiversity is declining faster in freshwater, than in any
other biome, including coral reefs and tropical forests .
We found maps of imidacloprid and thiomethoxam use for 2002 on the NAWQA website (with a cautionary notice to say that it was compiled by the Croplife Protection Research Institute and was an estimated average use over a period of five years from 1999 to 2004). Imidacloprid was applied to 10 different crops. The top three, sorghum, potatoes and tobacco represented respectively about 26%, 16% and 12% of national pesticide use. Thiomethoxam was also applied to ten different crops. The top three, cotton, sorghum and potatoes represented respectively about 57%, 23% and 10% of the national pesticide use. The densest rate of application of imidacloprid and thiomethoxam were in strips running parallel to California’s Sierra Nevada. At about the same time, Davidson et al. (2002) were studying Californian amphibian declines in a similar area . They used a geographic information system to test and compare patterns of amphibian declines with four hypotheses; climate change, habitat destruction, ultraviolet radiation and pesticide drift. In four species there was a strong positive association between declines and the amount of upwind agricultural land use. They suggested that windborne pesticides may be an important factor in declines.Joseph Mendelson, an amphibian scientist, wrote in 2011: “The reality of amphibian declines and extinctions has shifted the ecological baseline in so many ecosystems, that an entire generation of biologists is conducting their research in a framework that has been very recently remodeled… ” He has now decided to call himself a Forensic Taxonomist and his “colleague Dr Tim Halliday (Open University) has taken to calling himself ‘an extinction biologist’.”
The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) first discovered the ranavirus in 1995 and the chytrid fungus emerged in 1998 . In 2006, in localised areas of the UK, the ranavirus caused infected frogs either to bleed to death or to develop skin ulceration . By 2007, a similar condition was found in toads and laboratory experiments showed that transmission could occur by inoculation from an infected frog to a toad . Scientists from Natural England suggested that it could have been present for years, but something had changed to turn a commensal organism into a pathogen. By July 2008, the ZSL and Froglife reported that the ranavirus and chytrid fungus were starting to affect amphibian populations over a wider area and appealed to the public to report outbreaks to the ZSL . Dr Andrew Cunningham said: “Amphibians are being devastated by disease on a global scale, but we have an extremely limited picture of what is going on in our own back yard.” At a ZSL meeting in 2008 it was predicted that more than half of Europe’s amphibians faced extinctions by 2050 . By October 2010, the devastation that had earlier ravaged US populations had hit the UK as well. In Animal Conservation, researchers reported that the rapidly spreading ranavirus “is killing common frogs in the UK in areas where it has never been seen before.”  Population declines of 81% had occurred over a period of 12 years.
Continues.... bats and bumblebees in the US, UK and Europe
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