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A field study examining the effects of exposure to neonicotinoid seed-treated corn on commercial bumble bee colonies

Abstract

Neonicotinoid insecticides have been studied as possible contributors to bumble bee declines in North America and Europe. This has potential significance in corn agro-ecosystems since this crop is frequently treated with neonicotinoids and dominates much of the agricultural landscape in North America and Europe where bumble bees and other pollinators are commonplace. We conducted an experiment where commercial bumble bee (Bombus impatiens) hives were placed during pollen shed next to corn (Zea mays) fields that were grown from “conventional” seed that was treated with neonicotinoids, or “organic” seed that was not treated with pesticides. Samples of pollen were collected from corn plants for neonicotinoid residue analysis, pollen types carried by worker bees returning to hives were determined, and in autumn hives were dissected to measure various endpoints that serve as markers of colony vigor. Clothianidin was detected (0.1–0.8 ng/g) in pollen collected from all conventional fields, but was not detected in pollen from organic fields. Corn pollen was only rarely collected from bumble bee foragers and the vast majority of pollen was from wild plants around the corn fields. All hives appeared healthy and neonicotinoid seed treatments had no effect on any hive endpoints measured, except the number of workers, where significantly fewer workers were recovered from hives placed next to conventional fields (96 ± 15 workers per hive) compared to organic fields (127 ± 17 workers per hive). The results suggest that exposure during pollen shed to corn grown from neonicotinoid-treated shed poses low risk to B. impatiens.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to the various corn growers in Ontario who allowed us to use their fields, and to Drew Mochrie, Melissa Eisen, Alexandra Kruger, Cam Menzies, and Kelly Greig for technical assistance in field and lab. We thank Johanne Parent (Laboratoire BSL, Rimouski, QC) for conducting the floral source (pollen) analysis and Tom Thompson (Residue Chemist, Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, Agri-Food Laboratories Branch) for performing residue analysis. Funding for this study was through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Canadian Pollination Initiative (NSERC-CANPOLIN). This is publication no. 118 of NSERC-CANPOLIN.

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The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

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Correspondence to G. Christopher Cutler.

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Christopher Cutler, G., Scott-Dupree, C.D. A field study examining the effects of exposure to neonicotinoid seed-treated corn on commercial bumble bee colonies. Ecotoxicology 23, 1755–1763 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10646-014-1340-5

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Keywords

  • Bombus impatiens
  • Colony development
  • Neonicotinoids
  • Seed-treatment
  • Corn
  • Bees