Effects of sublethal doses of crop protection agents on honey bee (Apis mellifera) global colony vitality and its potential link with aberrant foraging activity

Beliën T, Kellers J, Heylen K, Keulemans W, Billen J, Arckens L, Huybrechts R, Gobin B.

Honey bees (Apis mellifera) are the most economically valuable pollinators of fruit crops worldwide. Taking into account bees' contributions to other flowering agricultural crops, about one-third of our total diet comes directly or indirectly from bee-pollinated plants. However, in recent years there increasingly have been worrisome alarm sounds on serious bee mortalities and mysterious disappearance of bees from beehives. Among several environmental factors (e.g. climate and bee pathogens), stress factors arising from agricultural practices can potentially play a role in bee losses.

Detailed knowledge on the effects of plant protection products is essential to improve usage with minimal risks. In order to identify potential medium- and long-term effects, we followed up various sublethal contaminated hives during the prolongation of the fruit-growing season. More specifically, a large-scale experiment was conducted in which at four distinct locations (in the Limburg region of Belgium) four different bee colonies (representing three different contaminations -imidacloprid, fenoxycarb, indoxacarb- and a non-contaminated control hive) were thoroughly monitored every 2-7 days. Our observations point towards decays of overall colony vitality for several hives a couple of weeks after treatment, as indicated by a set of carefully assessed parameters including the total amount of active and dead bees, total surface of capped brood and overall colony weight. These outcomes could be linked to subtle differences in foraging activity between distinct hives. The implications of these results are discussed in terms of potential short-term and long-term consequences of disturbed foraging ability triggered by exaggerated exposure to sublethal doses of crop protection chemicals, and its potential impact on colony health.

Source: Commun Agric Appl Biol Sci. 2009;74(1):245-53.