Exposure to pesticides impairs bumblebees' learning ability and ultimately the ability to pollinate and extract nectar.
Researchers have found that pesticides can have a strong impact on bees. Exposure to pesticides even at the low levels could make it harder for bees to learn skills and ultimately impairs their ability to pollinate and extract nectar from flowers.
Many previous studies have highlighted the effects of pesticides on bees’ population but the latest study, published in Functional Ecology, is the first to explore the effects of pesticides on bumblebees foraging behavior, how it hinder bees ability to collect nectar and pollen from common wild flowers.
For the study, researchers exposed bumblebees to a realistic level of insecticide called thiamethoxam and compared them another group of bees who were not exposed to chemicals.
Researchers found that pesticide exposure atlered the food-searching behavior of the bees. Pesticide-exposed bees not only took longer to collect pollen from flowers but also chose different wild flowers in comparsion to control bees.
“Bees rely on learning to locate flowers, track their profitability and work out how best to efficiently extract nectar and pollen,” said co-researcher Nigel Reine, professor at University of Guelph in Canada.
“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 plans.”
Many crops depend on bees like pollinators for their reproduction and deterioration in bees’ learning ability may eventually harm world food supply. Researchers suggest that current levels of pesticides are significantly affecting the skills needed to extract nectar and pollen and there should be ways to mitigate the harmful effects of pesticides.
“Bumblebees exposed to pesticide initially forged faster and collected more pollen. However unexposed (control) bees may be investing more time and energy in learning,” said Dara Stanly, lead author of the study.
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“Our findings have important implications for society and the economy as pollinating insects are vital to support agriculture and wild plant biodiversity.”