Pesticides Influence Bee Learning and Memory, Study Shows

Wednesday, July 11, 2018 - 13:06

Researchers from Royal Holloway University of London have discovered that pesticides used in crop protection have a significant negative impact on the learning and memory abilities of bees.

According to the findings, published on 11 July in the Journal of Applied Ecology, even at very low field-realistic dosages, pesticides have significant negative effects on bee learning and memory, with worker bees exposed to pesticides less likely to learn and memorize a rewarding scent, phys.org reports.

Learning abilities are a vital component of the search for food in bees, because individuals must remember what type of flowers to visit, where to find them, which flowers they have recently drained of nectar, and how to find the way back to the hive.

Ph.D. student Harry Siviter, alongside Professor Julia Koricheva, Professor Mark Brown, and Dr. Elli Leadbeater (all from Royal Holloway) combined data from a large number of studies in which bees that had been exposed to pesticides had to learn about floral scents, a test that is commonly used to measure learning and memory in bees.

"Our results show that, when combining data collected from a wide range of studies, insecticides have a significant negative impact on bee learning and memory. This occurs even at the low levels of pesticides that bees would routinely encounter in the field.

"Importantly, as the near-total European ban on neonicotinoid insecticides is set to be implemented in December this year, our results showed that non-neonicotinoid insecticides also have a robust significant negative impact on bee learning and memory.

More information: Siviter H, Koricheva J, Brown MJF, Leadbeater E. Quantifying the impact of pesticides on learning and memory in bees. J Appl Ecol. 2018; 00:1-10 DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.13193

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