A meta-analysis of experiments testing the effects of a neonicotinoid insecticide (imidacloprid) on honey bees
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Honey bees provide important pollination services to crops and wild plants. The agricultural use of systemic insecticides, such as neonicotinoids, may harm bees through their presence in pollen and nectar, which bees consume. Many studies have tested the effects on honey bees of imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid, but a clear picture of the risk it poses to bees has not previously emerged, because investigations are methodologically varied and inconsistent in outcome. In a meta-analysis of fourteen published studies of the effects of imidacloprid on honey bees under laboratory and semi-field conditions that comprised measurements on 7073 adult individuals and 36 colonies, fitted dose–response relationships estimate that trace dietary imidacloprid at field-realistic levels in nectar will have no lethal effects, but will reduce expected performance in honey bees by between 6 and 20%. Statistical power analysis showed that published field trials that have reported no effects on honey bees from neonicotinoids were incapable of detecting these predicted sublethal effects with conventionally accepted levels of certainty. These findings raise renewed concern about the impact on honey bees of dietary imidacloprid, but because questions remain over the environmental relevance of predominantly laboratory-based results, I identify targets for research and provide procedural recommendations for future studies.