Environmental Monitoring and Assessment

, Volume 43, Issue 1, pp 1-9

First online:

Investigation of the use of honey bees and honey bee products to assess heavy metals contamination

  • L. LeitaAffiliated withDipartimento di Produzione Vegetale e Tecnologie Agrarie
  • , G. MuhlbachovaAffiliated withResearch Institute of Crop Production
  • , S. CescoAffiliated withDipartimento di Produzione Vegetale e Tecnologie Agrarie
  • , R. BarbattiniAffiliated withDipartimento di Biologia Applicata alla Difesa delle Piante
  • , C. MondiniAffiliated withsection of Gorizia, Istituto Sperimentale per la Nutrizione delle Piante

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Experiment was carried out using 12 colonies of honey bees bred in hives located near an extraurban crossroad. We analyzed the Pb, Cd and Zn deposited on the bee's surfaces and the heavy metal accumulation in the foragers, dead bees, honey products and some environmental markers during nine weeks of the experiment. Results showed a large amount of Zn and Cd on the bee's surface as a consequence of atmospheric fallout, whereas Pb seems to be either water-extractable and/or likely accumulated in the body of the insect. Dead bees expelled from the hives displayed a progressive accumulation of all heavy metals during the experimental period. Royal jelly and honey contained large amounts of heavy metals. In particular, we found a linear relationship between Cd in the honey and that found in flowers of Trifolium pratense L. Results obtained suggested that honey bee products and the examined environmental markers may be considered useful parameters to assess the presence of environmental contaminants, whereas the measurements of heavy metals in the dead bees may be considered a suitable tool also to verify a possible dynamics of accumulation of pollutants.