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Bees at Risk of Addiction to Nectar Laden with Harmful Pesticides

First Posted: Apr 27, 2015 08:50 AM EDT

Bees could actually become addicted to pesticides. Scientists have found that bees prefer nectar containing common pesticides, which could actually increase their chances of exposure to deadly chemicals.

Bees and pollinating insects are important for increasing crop yields. When these insects pollinate crops, though, they can be exposed to pesticides in nectar and pollen. Already, several studies have shown that neonicotinoids, which are pesticides, can have negative effects on bee foraging and colony fitness. In fact, these studies spurred the EU to introduce a temporary ban on the se of neonicotinoid pesticides on flowering crops.

"Bees can't taste neonicotinoids in their food and therefore do not avoid these pesticides," said Geraldine Wright, lead author of the new study, in a news release. "This is putting them at risk of poisoning when they eat contaminated nectar. Even worse, we now have evidence that bees prefer to eat pesticide-contaminated food. Neonicotinoids target the same mechanisms in the bee brain that are affected by nicotine in the human brain."

The scientists conducted experiments in the lab and discovered that bumblebees ate more of the food containing pesticides than honeybees, and therefore were exposed to higher levels of toxins.

"Our findings imply that even if alternative food sources are provided for bees in agricultural landscapes where neonicotinoid pesticides are used, the bees may prefer to forage on the neonicotinoid-contaminated crops," said Jane Stout, one of the researchers. "Since neonicotinoids can also end up in wild plants growing adjacent to crops, they could be much more prevalent in bees' diets than previously thought."

The findings are published in the journal Nature.

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