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Commonly used pesticides are still harming bees

A bumble bee among apple blossoms. Photo.
Bumblebees are a key wild and commercial pollinator. Yet commonly used farmland pesticides continue to harm bumblebee colonies. Photo: Maj Rundlöf.

A new study from Lund confirms that pesticides commonly used in farmland significantly harm bumblebees. Data from 106 sites across 8 European countries show that despite tightened pesticide regulations, more needs to be done.

Despite claims of the world's most rigorous risk assessment process, the use of approved pesticides in European agricultural landscapes still negatively affects non-target organisms – significantly reducing the colony performance of bumblebees, according to the study published in Nature.

“It is sad that the European Parliament did not support the Commissions suggestion to reduce pesticide use and risk by 50 percent until 2030, when they voted on this matter last week. Our study and findings could have been used to lead the way towards reduced pesticide risks and healthier bumblebee colonies.”, says Maj Rundlöf, biology researcher at Lund University.

A better understanding of the impact of pesticides

Bumblebees are a key wild and commercial pollinator. This transdisciplinary study, where researchers, beekeepers and farmers worked together, forms a key output of PoshBee – a pan-European project seeking to monitor and improve bee health. The scale of this work, with a landscape-level assessment across Europe, provides a step-change in our understanding of the impact of pesticides on pollinator health.

“When you step outside the laboratory, a challenge of ecotoxicology is to capture effect of real-world practices at organism-relevant scales. With the largest experimental field deployment of any pollinator, we see that bumblebees encounter multiple pesticides in agricultural landscapes, resulting in fewer offspring. On top of this, pesticides do more harm in landscapes with less habitat.”, says Charlie Nicholson, biology researcher at Lund University.

The study supports need for sustainability goals

The study findings support the need for sustainability goals to reduce pesticide use and risk – critical challenges highlighted at the Convention on Biological Diversity’s COP 15 meeting.

“Our work supports the development of landscape-level environmental risk assessment. However, there is also a need to better understand how the wider pollinator community is exposed to and potentially impacted by pesticide use, something that we will continue working on”, concludes Maj Rundlöf.

The study – a collaboration with Trinity College – is published in Nature, “Pesticide use negatively affects bumble bees across European landscapes”.