Animals and Insects

Newest pesticide research wades into debate over bee decline

New research supports the claim that a popular pesticide hurts bees, but it only adds to the debate about how to handle those pesticides.

Newest pesticide research wades into debate over bee decline
Getty Images / Sean Gallup

Neonicotinoids are a group of pesticides that have long been the source of controversy — because they've been tied to the mass decline of bees. (Video via U.S. Department of Agriculture)

Two new studies show neonics, as they're known for short, can not only have negative effects across the board for wild bees, but wild bees and honey bees alike can get hooked on them. (Video via Youtube / rockerBOOpaul pod / CC BY 2.0

Neonics are widely used in the U.S. as seed coatings for crops like corn and soybeans, among others.

The way seed coatings are supposed to work is the pesticide coating the seed is absorbed into the plant as it grows, killing off the pests that eat it.

What that means, as a bee researcher told NPR, "You get (neonicotinoid) residues in the nectar and pollen, even when the plant is flowering some months later, potentially" exposing bees to the neonics. (Video via University of Sussex)

The possible risks were enough for the European Union in 2013 to institute a two-year ban on the use of the three most common neonics. (Video via Al Jazeera)

But there's debate over how big a factor the neonics are in the increased death-rate beehives have seen in the past decade. (Video via Youtube / Beekeeping in Ontario)

There was a study last year saying not enough neonics to kill bees make it into plant nectar, and a U.S. Department of Agriculture report before that said neonics were a minor factor in bee decline.

A beekeeper prepares a shipment of honey bees.

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One big argument opponents of banning neonics make is there aren't a lot of alternatives. Bloomberg reported in January, in the wake of the E.U.'s ban, some European farmers have turned to other older and more environmentally damaging pesticides like pyrethroids, which are also toxic to bees. (Video via Deutshe Welle)

So these newest studies, published in Nature, wade into a debate — not over whether neonics are harmful to bees, but over how harmful their current use really is, and what can be done about it.

A panel created by the Obama administration to look into ways to protect pollinators like bees is expected to publish its findings next year. (Video via ABC)

This video includes images from Getty Images, Edgar181NEUROtikerJim, the Photographer / CC BY 2.0paul pod / CC BY 2.0 and music from Matt Lloyd / CC BY 3.0.