Early this month, the Trump administration ended restrictions on the use of neonicotinoid insecticides in national wildlife refuges. The change was announced in a memo from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that was primarily intended to rescind the ban on the use of genetically modified crops within the refuge system. “In addition, I am withdrawing the 2014 memorandum’s restrictions with regard to neonicotinoid pesticides that are often used in conjunction with GMO seed,” wrote Gregory J. Sheehan, Principal Deputy-Director of USFWS, as one of his final actions before leaving the wildlife service this week.
The 2014 memo to which he referred was released during the Obama administration after a decision by the National Wildlife Refuge System’s Leadership Team that only agricultural practices which specifically contribute to wildlife objectives would be allowed in the refuge system. As part of that decision, the Leadership Team stated that neonicotinoid pesticides would no longer be permitted: “We have determined that prophylactic use, such as a seed treatment, of the neonicotinoid pesticides that can distribute systematically in a plant and can potentially affect a broad spectrum of non-target species is not consistent with Service policy.”
The reversal of the 2014 ban is just one in a series of federal actions focused on changing how pesticides are used and regulated in the United States. This includes the recently-proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act, a memorandum of agreement between the Environmental Protection Agency, Interior and Commerce departments, and certain sections in the House version of the 2018 Farm Bill.
The stated reason for ending the ban on neonicotinoids was that these pesticides “are often used in conjunction with GMO seed”, and farming practices that employ genetically modified crops could be necessary “to best fulfill the purposes of the refuge and the needs of birds and other wildlife” as described in other sections of the memo.
However, Sheehan did not address the original concern that these same pesticides “can potentially affect a broad spectrum of non-target species” including bees, nor did he explain how such collateral impact would be consistent with any specific objective.
The extent to which the new policy could or will affect bee communities in North America isn’t clear yet. It will obviously depend on what sorts of bees live in and around these various refuges. It will also depend on how refuge managers choose to employ this new flexibility and how rigorously they adhere to the wildlife service’s own recommended best practices regarding pesticide use.
What is clear, however, is our scientific knowledge on the matter. The same week this change was announced, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation released a 1100-page report laying out how neonicotinoids can be harmful to bees and other pollinators. So let’s use this as an opportunity to begin reviewing what we know.
Below is a new, on-going project from the Bee Report: a review of the lethal and sub-lethal effects that this class of insecticides can have on bees. The review is currently based on 49 different studies. A list of 96 different effects, grouped into nine different categories, has been created from this review. A quick look at the list shows us that the majority of effects fall into the categories of reproduction, foraging and physical behaviors.
To dive even deeper into the review, click on a category below for drop-down information. You’ll see the specific effects, the types of bees that showed those effects, the types of neonics that caused the effects and the research references for that information. You can open multiple categories at the same time. Just be warned, the list is long and can feel a bit overwhelming. Which is actually the point: the evidence that neonicotinoids can be harmful to bees is overwhelming.
This project is a work in progress and will continue to be updated. If you have additional research that you think should be included, please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Effect||Type of Change||Type of Bees||Type of Neonics||References|
|Decrease||Honey bees||Acetamiprid (AC), Clothianidin (CL), Dinotefuran (DN), Imidacloprid (IM), Thiamethoxam (TH), Thiacloprid (TC)|
"&" indicates a mixture
|bee immobility||IM||Moffat et al. 2016|
|breathing||IM||Hatjina et al. 2013|
|feeding||TH||Elston et al. 2013|
|hygienic behavior||IM||Tsvetkov et al. 2017; Wu-Smart & Spivak 2016|
|locomotor skills in queens||IM||Wu-Smart & Spivak 2016|
|motor function||CL, DN, IM||Williamson et al. 2014|
|pollination services||TH||Stanley et al. 2015b|
|proboscis extension||AC, TH||Alkassab & Kirchner 2016; Démares et al. 2016; Thany et al. 2015|
|swarming||CL&TH||Sandrock et al. 2014a|
|time grooming||TH||Williamson et al. 2014|
|worker movement||CL, IM, TH||Scholer & Krischik 2014|
|learning||TH||Stanley et al. 2015a|
|memory, long-term||CL, IM||Alkassab & Kirchner 2016; Williamson & Wright 2013|
|memory, short-term and mid-term||IM, TH||Stanley et al. 2015a; Williamson & Wright 2013|
|foraging activity||CL||Arce et al. 2016; Wu-Smart et al. 2016|
|flight duration (chronic exposure)||TH||Tosi et al. 2017|
|flight duration (acute exposure)||TH||Tosi et al. 2017|
|flight distance (chronic exposure)||TH||Tosi et al. 2017|
|flight distance (acute exposure)||TH||Tosi et al. 2017|
|flight velocity||TH||Tosi et al. 2017|
|forager recruitment||IM||Gill et al. 2012|
|foraging performance||IM||Cresswell 2011|
|foragers returning to patch||IM||Karahan et al. 2015|
|foraging trips||IM||Karahan et al. 2015|
|homing capacity||CL, IM, TH||Fischer et al. 2014; Yang et al. 2012|
|pollen load||IM||Gill et al. 2012; Stanley et al. 2016|
|pollen stores||IM||Wu-Smart & Spivak 2016|
|pollen trip (duration)||IM||Gill et al. 2012|
|pollen trip (successful)||IM||Gill et al. 2012|
|rate of return to colony||TH||Stanley et al. 2016|
|time spent foraging||TH||Stanley et al. 2016|
|workers lost during foraging||IM||Gill et al. 2012|
|daily mortality||IM||Abbo et al. 2017|
|life span||CL||Straub et al. 2016; Tsvetkov et al. 2017|
|mortality||IM||Alaux et al. 2010; Trayner et al. 2016|
|mortality (synergistic effects)||CL, TH||Sgolastra et al. 2016; Zhu et al. 2017|
|worker mortality||IM, TH||Mommaerts et al. 2010|
PARASITES, PATHOGENS, DISEASE
|parasites and pathogens (abundance)||various||Sanchez-Bayo et al. 2016|
|parasites and pathogens (spread)||various||Sanchez-Bayo et al. 2016|
|immune response||IM||Czerwinski & Sadd 2017|
|varroa infestation||CL&TH||Alburaki et al. 2015; Alburaki et al. 2018|
|body mass||IM||Abbo et al. 2017|
|depolarization in neurons||IM||Moffat et al. 2015|
|gene expression (variety of genes)||AC, CL, IM, TH||Christen et al. 2016; Simmons & Angelini 2017|
|hemocyte count||CL||Brandt et al. 2016; Hernandez-Lopez et al. 2017|
|neural stimulation||CL, IM||Moffat et al. 2016|
|neural sensitivity to substances||IM||Moffat et al. 2015|
|size of hypopharyngeal glands||IM||Alaux et al. 2010; Hatjina et al. 2013|
|thermoregulation||TH||Tosi et al. 2016|
|vitellogenin levels||IM||Abbo et al. 2017|
|wild bee density||CL||Rundlöf et al. 2015|
|olfactory associative behavior||IM||Yang et al. 2012|
This review is based predominately on two sources of information:
1. Supplementary materials from Mitchell and colleagues’ 2017 study, “A worldwide survey of neonicotinoids in honey”. Table S8 in those materials contains an extensive list of effects and references to the studies demonstrating each effect.
2. The IPI database which contains summaries of research articles on pesticides and their effects on invertebrates. The articles in the database have been reviewed and summarized by Xerces Society staff. This list was built from the results of a search for “neonicotinoids, bees”.
Effect: The impact descriptions were taken from the summaries of research in the supplemental materials and the IPI database. When necessary, I referred to the abstracts of the original research work for clarification. In listing the effects and grouping together different studies with similar effects, I was particularly careful not to combine effects that could be subtly but distinctly different (ex. decreases in “nest building” and “nest reproduction” are not necessarily the same thing); I preferred to risk duplicating effects on the list than to miss an important distinction between them.
In the interest of making the list easier to navigate and read, I grouped together effects into different categories that seemed to make sense.
Type of Change: The direction of each impact – “decrease” or “increase” – was also taken from the summaries of research in the supplemental materials and IPI database. When both “decrease” and “increase” are listed, it indicates mixed results within a single study or between studies. “Altered” is my own category for results that did not seem best represented by “decrease” or “increase” or both.
Type of Bees: The category “Honey bees” includes Apis mellifera. “Bumble bees” includes Bombus terrestris and Bombus impatiens. “Solitary bees” includes Osmia bicornis with a single occurrence of Osmia lignaria.
This project is on-going. If you have additional research that you believe should be included in the review, please get in touch with me at email@example.com.