Swedish field-scale bee study reignites neonicotinoid row

A study by Swedish researchers published in the high-impact journal Nature, claiming neonicotinoid-based seed treatment adversely impacts solitary bees and bumblebees, has reignited the row over the insecticide.

Image: Dean Morley
Image: Dean Morley

The researchers found that oilseed rape seed coated with Elado (clothianidin + β-cyfluthrin) led to reduced wild bee density, solitary bee nesting, and bumblebee colony growth and reproduction under field conditions, though no effect was found on honeybees.

They concluded: "Such insecticidal use can pose a substantial risk to wild bees in agricultural landscapes, and the contribution of pesticides to the global decline of wild bees may have been underestimated."

The Crop Protection Association (CPA) called the research "questionable". CPA chief executive Nick von Westenholz said: "The risk posed by the very high pollen and nectar residues reported is questionable because these levels have not been seen in any other oil seed rape field studies."

But conservation charity Buglife chief executive Matt Shardlow said: "The pesticide companies have been hiding behind the absence of sufficiently robust field studies to call for inaction in protecting wild pollinators from insecticides. This position is no longer tenable in light of this highly conclusive study."

A separate study in the same edition of Nature by Newcastle University researchers found that bees prefer sugar solutions laced with the neonicotinoids imidacloprid and thiamethoxan, suggesting they can become addicted to the chemicals.

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