Aluminum Pollution May Cause Bumblebee Alzheimer's and Population Decline

First Posted: Jun 08, 2015 07:26 PM EDT

Aluminum contamination may be impacting bee cognition. Researchers have found that aluminum contamination may be contributing to the decline in bumblebee populations.

Aluminum is one of the world's most prevalent toxicant; it's already known to be connected to the death of fish in acid lakes, forest decline in acidified and nutrient impoverished catchments and low crop productivity in acid sulphate soils. Now, researchers believe that this metal may also play a role in the decline of bees.

In this latest study, the researchers collected pupae from colonies of naturally foraging bumblebees. These pupae were then examined for traces of aluminum. In this case, the scientists found that the pupae were heavily contaminated, with individual contents ranging from between 13 and nearly 200 ppm. A value of 3 ppm would be considered potentially pathological in human brain tissue. This suggests that the bees may also be suffering from the contamination.

"It is widely accepted that a number of interacting factors are likely to be involved in the decline of bees and other pollinators-lack of flowers, attacks by parasites, and exposure to pesticide cocktails, for example," said Chris Exley, a leading authority on human exposure to aluminum, in a news release. "Aluminum is a known neurotoxin affecting behavior in animal models of aluminum intoxication. Bees, of course, rely heavily on cognitive function in their everyday behavior and these data raise the intriguing spectre that aluminum-induced cognitive dysfunction may play a role in their population decline-are we looking at bees with Alzheimer's disease?"

The findings are published in the journal PLOS One.

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