Bumblebees and pesticides is a combination that will ultimate harm the food supply. A new study is raising serious concerns about the impact and exposure that can hinder the ability of bumbles to learn the skills they need to collect nectar and pollen, according to The Christian Science Monitor.
While several studies have been conducted on the effects of pesticides on the honeybee population, the findings released today are the first to explore how the chemicals may affect the ability of bumblebees to forage from common wildflowers. University of Guelph professor and senior author Nigel Raine says if exposure to low levels of pesticide affects their learning function, bees may struggle to collect food.
That could impair their ability to pollinate both crops and wild plants, which can ultimately harm the food supply.
The new Bumblebees and pesticides study, co-authored by Dara Stanley at Royal Holloway University in London, found that, while the bees exposed to pesticides in the open collected more pollen than control bees, control bees were able to learn to extract nectar from complex flowers after fewer visits.
“Bees rely on learning to locate flowers, track their profitability and work-out how best to efficiently extract nectar and pollen,” Raine said in a press release. “If exposure to low levels of pesticide affects their ability to learn, bees may struggle to collect food and impair the essential pollination services they provide to both crops and wild plants.”
Previous studies have shown neonicotinoid pesticides can affect memory and learning abilities in honeybees.
In the experiments, pesticide-contaminated bumblebees actually collected more pollen than the control group. Researchers believe the control group bees split their time more evenly between collecting pollen and learning how to retrieve pollen from more complex flower shapes.
If pesticides limit bumblebees’ ability to learn about and adapt to the natural world, wild bees could become increasingly vulnerable to environmental change.
“Our results suggest that current levels of pesticide-exposure could be significantly affecting how bees are interacting with wild-plants, and impairing the crucial pollination services they provide that support healthy ecosystem function,” Raine said.