Nicotine, the compound we all know and fear, is a natural substance. Plants produce it because it keeps bugs away. Hence the development of neonicotinoids, synthetic pesticides that are chemically very similar to nicotine. But a few recent studies further our understanding of just how dangerous they can be.
In some ways neonicotinoids seem ideal; they’re seldom harmful to mammals or birds who encounter them in the wild, but are toxic to insects. They’re extremely common in North America – imidacloprid, the most commonly used pesticide in the world, is a neonicotinoid – but in recent years, we’ve begun to realize its potential damage to our ecosystem. In 2013, the EU, after seeing studies linking neonicotinoids with honeybee colony collapse, restricted the use of some of these pesticides. And the science just keeps coming in.
There are a few studies that have been published in the past few weeks. One, published in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal, finds, “these pesticides kill bee brain cells, rendering them unable to learn, gather food and reproduce.” Another, published in Nature, finds that bees, very dangerously, actually prefer plants that have been sprayed with these pesticides. And another, also in Nature, finds that if coated in neonicotinoids, even the mere seeds of plants “reduced wild bee density, solitary bee nesting, and bumblebee colony growth and reproduction under field conditions.”
This is an enormous problem. Bees are essential for pollinating plants and keeping crop ecosystems healthy. Hopefully the studies inspire more work that might eventually lead to regulation – anything to keep our bee populations healthy.
Image via Flickr user confierconifer