Supplying honey bees with waterers: a precautionary measure to reduce exposure to pesticides

Abstract

Water is essential for honey bees (Apis mellifera L.), but contaminated sources of water in agricultural environments represent a risk of exposure to potentially harmful contaminants. Providing clean water to honey bees could be an efficient and cost-effective measure for beekeepers to reduce bee mortality associated with pesticides and improve the health of their colonies. The main goal of this study was to design a waterer prototype to fulfill the water requirements of honey bees and to evaluate the potential of this waterer in improving colonies’ health in agricultural settings, through mitigating the possible impact of an exposure to pesticides from puddle water. We tested the preference of honey bees regarding water composition and waterer prototypes, among which honey bees showed a strong preference for salted water and a poultry-type waterer. Our waterer models were quickly adopted and intensively used through the season in both the context of honey production in field crops and pollination services in cranberry crops. However, in neither context did the use of waterers reduce worker mortality nor increase overall colony weight. Our waterers provided bees with water containing fewer pesticides and were associated with reduced risks of drowning compared to natural sources of water. Our study suggests that the use of waterers fulfills an important requirement for honey bees and represents an interesting and convenient precautionary measure for beekeepers.

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Data availability

The datasets generated and/or analyzed during the current study are available in the Scholars Portal Dataverse repository: https://doi.org/10.5683/SP2/Q2RATH (McCune et al. 2020).

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank all the beekeepers involved in the project, as well as the cranberry producers and the CRSAD. Special thanks to Théo Constant, Mélanie Normandeau-Bonneau, and Nolwenn Kerhervé for the fieldwork assistance. We are also grateful to Luc Gagnon (MAPAQ) and the CEAEQ for assistance in processing chemical analyses and to Gaétan Daigle for assistance with statistical analyses.

Funding

This study was funded by Prime-Vert; Volet 4 - Appui au développement et au transfert de connaissances en agroenvironnement of the Ministère de l'Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l'Alimentation du Québec (MAPAQ) [LAVA-1-13-1690].

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O.S.-R., M.C., and V.F. conceived and designed the experiments. F.Mc., O.S.-R., and S.R. performed the experiments and analyzed the data. All authors jointly wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Frédéric McCune.

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McCune, F., Samson-Robert, O., Rondeau, S. et al. Supplying honey bees with waterers: a precautionary measure to reduce exposure to pesticides. Environ Sci Pollut Res 28, 17573–17586 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-020-12147-3

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Keywords

  • Neonicotinoids
  • Colony performance
  • Clothianidin
  • Thiamethoxam
  • Water foraging
  • Herbicides