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Bee Experts Speak at Penn State Pollinator Conference

Posted: September 6, 2013

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The majority of our agricultural crops depend on pollinators, however pollinators are facing a number of stressors in their environment. These stressors and approaches to mitigating their effects were the focus of the 2nd International Conference on Pollinator Biology, Health and Policy held recently at Penn State.

For example, Penn State researchers have found over 130 chemical residues in US honey bee colonies. Increased exposure to pesticides, along with reduced habitat, disease and poor nutrition are affecting pollinator populations worldwide, said Christina Grozinger, conference organizer and Professor of Entomology at Penn State. 

Accordingly, over 230 attendees from 15 countries took part in the various conference presentations over four days. “Participants included representatives from academic institutions, government agencies, agrochemical industries, non-profit, grower and beekeeper groups,” Grozinger said.

The conference featured keynote speaker David Goulson, a bumble bee biologist and professor at the University of Stirling, U.K. Goulson’s research focuses on the ecology and conservation of bumble bees and he has published more than 200 scientific articles on the ecology and conservation of insects. During the keynote session, which was free and open to the public, he spoke in-depth about the impact sublethal exposures to pesticide on pollinators. In particular, he has studied the effects of neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides used as a coating for canola, cereals, maize, sunflowers and beets seeds, on bumble bees, an important pollinator species for many crops.

Neonicotinoids remain in the plant as it grows, killing the insects that eat it. It is also sprayed on fruits, crops and sold for garden use. “Neonicotinoids are being used more frequently and can be highly toxic to pollinators,” said Goulson. “Even at sublethal levels, neonicotinoids impair bee learning, food collection, navigation and reduces fecundity.” According to Goulson, one study has shown an 85 percent decline in queen bee production after a two-week exposure to these insecticides.

Even more alarming is that neonicotinoids used on seeds end up in the soil and groundwater and can accumulate over time. “Several studies have shown that neonicotinoids can spend up to 19 years in the soil, and because they accumulate every year with each application, the soil will become more and more toxic,” Goulson explained. “We need to be relying on integrated pest management to control pests. Yields increase when using these methods rather than relying on insecticides.”

Integrated pest management, or IPM, aims to manage pests -- such as insects, diseases, weeds and animals -- by combining physical, biological and chemical tactics that are safe, profitable and environmentally compatible. Extending these IPM approaches to include minimizing exposure of pollinators to pesticides can better conserve pollinator populations and therefore their ability to pollinate crops.
 
In an effort to make the applications of pesticides safer to pollinator populations, Donald Brady, director of EPA’s Environmental Fate and Effects Division, presented information on the EPA's pollinator testing and regulation programs, and described newly released labeling regulations aimed at reducing the application of some these pesticides when bees are present.  Furthermore, the European Commission has also taken action to limit bee exposure to certain neonicotinoids, announcing in April that it would move forward with a temporary ban on three types of neonicotinoid pesticides. The ban will also prohibit the sale and use of seeds treated with neonicotinoid pesticides for two years, effective Dec. 1.

Several other presenters discussed scientific studies of sublethal effects of pesticides on pollinators, as well as associated policy considerations.  The presentations and discussions highlighted the need for developing public databases of the use patterns and chemical residues of pesticides found in the landscape, designing short-term lab experiments that directly reflect long-term effects in the field, as well as minimize the exposure of pollinators to pesticides by implementing IPM approaches.

Additional symposia at the conference included over 50 invited and contributed talks and more than 90 posters related to pollinator behavior, physiology, host-parasite interactions, conservation, ecosystems services and policy. The full agenda, abstracts of the talks and posters, as well as PDFs of the keynote and policy presentations are available at the Center for Pollinator Research website.

The conference was supported and sponsored by Penn State’s Center for Pollinator Research, Department of Entomology, College of Agricultural Sciences and the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences; Wyman’s; Syngenta; Bayer; Häagan Dazs; Ernst Conservation Seeds; BASF; Project Apis m, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Paramount Farming Company, Almond Board of California, Monsanto and USDA-APHIS.

Penn State's Center for Pollinator Research is a dynamic consortium of more than 25 faculty members involved in research, education and extension efforts focused on improving pollinator health, conservation and ecosystems services.

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Editors Contact:
Kristie Auman-Bauer
PA IPM Program
(814) 865-2839