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The Birds, and The Bees - and the Pesticides

We look into the controversy over Neonicotinoid pesticides and their impact on pollinators and other wildlife....
image courtesy J Petts, cc-by-sa-2.0
We look into the controversy over Neonicotinoid pesticides and their impact on pollinators and other wildlife.
One of the biggest news stories in science this past summer was about the birds and the bees ... and the pesticides. Studies flooded into the academic journals all summer long, with new findings about the effects of neonicotinoids, or neonics. They're the most common class of insecticide in the world, used on crops all over the planet. And those studies raised alarming questions about the impact of neonicotinoids on both the birds and the bees. We sent freelance science writer, and Quirks contributor, Alanna Mitchell, to investigate.  Among the people she spoke to were:

Dr. Christy Morrissey is an ecotoxicologist at the University of Saskatchewan. She's been looking at how neonics might be indirectly harming some birds by killing or suppressing their main food source: aquatic insects, such as midges and caddisflies, that live and breed in the water of the many small potholes on the Prairies. She has detected potentially harmful levels of neonics in those potholes.

Dr. Nigel Raine holds the Rebanks Family Chair in Pollinator Conservation at the University of Guelph. His studies on bumblebees have shown that even tiny amounts of neonics in plant pollen and nectar can seriously impair a bee's ability to forage.

Pierre Petelle is Vice-President of Chemistry at CropLife Canada, the group that represents the pesticide manufacturers. He says that the levels detected by Dr. Morrissey are infinitesimally small and could not possibly have any harmful effect. He also says neonics are far safer, greener and more effective than previous pesticides.

Related Links

  • Dutch study in Nature that concluded neonics are harming birds
  • Dr. Morrissey's paper in PLoS One on insects, potholes and neonics: 
  • Dr. Nigel Raine's bumblebee papers in Functional Ecology and Nature
  • CropLife America's paper on the environmental pluses of neonics
  • Task Force on Systemic Pesticides report
  • Alanna Mitchell's article on neonics in Environmental Health News
  • CBC News story on the beekeepers' lawsuit: 
  • CBC News story on Dr. Raine's study

Click here for the rest of Quirks & Quarks for Oct. 4, 2014