Study: Comparative toxicity of pesticides and environmental contaminants in bees: Are honey bees a useful proxy for wild bee species?
- Threats to wild and managed insect pollinators in Europe are cause for both ecological and socio-economic concern.
anthropogenic pressures may be exacerbating pollinator declines. One
key pressure is exposure to chemicals including pesticides and other
Heard,M.S., et al., Comparativetoxicity of pesticides and environmental contaminants in bees: Are honey bees a useful proxy for wild bee species?, Sci Total Environ (2016)
- Historically the honey bee (Apis mellifera spp.) has been used as an
‘indicator’species for ‘standard’ ecotoxicological testing but it has
been suggested that it is not always a good proxy for other types of
eusocial and sol itary bees because of species differences in autecology
and sensitivity to various stressors.
- The researchers
developed a common toxicity test system to conduct acute and chronic
exposures of up to 240 h of similar doses of seven chemicals, targeting
different metaboli cp athways, on three bee species (Apis mellifera
spp., Bombus terrestris and Osmia bicornis).
researchers compared the relative sensitivity between species in terms
of potency between the chemicals and the inﬂuence of exposure time on
- The researchers state that while there were signiﬁcant interspeciﬁc
differences that varied through time, overall the magnitude of these
differences (in terms of treatment effect ratios) was generally
comparable (b2 fold) although there were some large divergences from
- They state that the results suggest that A.mellifera spp. could be used as a proxy for other bee species provided a reasonable assessment factor is used to cover interspeciﬁc variation.
- The researchers state that their results show signiﬁcant and large time dependency of toxicity across all three tested species that greatly exceeds species differences (N25 fold within test). These are rarely considered in standard regulatory testing but may have severe environmental consequences, especially when coupled with the likelihood of differential species exposures in the wild. These insights indicate that further work is required to understand how differences in toxicokinetics vary between species and mixtures of chemicals
(PDF Download Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/
honey_bees_a_useful_proxy_for_wild_bee_species - copy and paste the link into your browser).
- Testing on honey bees is potentially very valuable, because they can be
managed easily within their colonies, and have a number of by-products
that can be collected simply for testing - such as honey, wax, pollen,
- In addition, a colony is supposed to thrive for several years. This
means that it should be possible to conduct chronic toxicity tests on
honey bees and the colony, and in addition, measure concentrations of
pesticides in honey bee products over time.
- Colonies of wild bees may be shorter lived, and with far less by-product. Potentially, the effects of chemicals could arguably be more severe.
I genuinely dislike that we should be in a position of testing poisons
on bees, knowing we are likely to kill them. Within the current methods
of farming, and need for testing poisons, testing is demanded, but I
really wish some other way would be found. Research evidence calls in to question the value of a particular insecticide group, neonicotinoids - see: What's the point of neonicotinoids?