Pesticide Residues and Bees – A Risk Assessment
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Bees are essential pollinators of many plants in natural ecosystems and agricultural crops alike. In recent years the decline and disappearance of bee species in the wild and the collapse of honey bee colonies have concerned ecologists and apiculturalists, who search for causes and solutions to this problem. Whilst biological factors such as viral diseases, mite and parasite infections are undoubtedly involved, it is also evident that pesticides applied to agricultural crops have a negative impact on bees. Most risk assessments have focused on direct acute exposure of bees to agrochemicals from spray drift. However, the large number of pesticide residues found in pollen and honey demand a thorough evaluation of all residual compounds so as to identify those of highest risk to bees. Using data from recent residue surveys and toxicity of pesticides to honey and bumble bees, a comprehensive evaluation of risks under current exposure conditions is presented here. Standard risk assessments are complemented with new approaches that take into account time-cumulative effects over time, especially with dietary exposures. Whilst overall risks appear to be low, our analysis indicates that residues of pyrethroid and neonicotinoid insecticides pose the highest risk by contact exposure of bees with contaminated pollen. However, the synergism of ergosterol inhibiting fungicides with those two classes of insecticides results in much higher risks in spite of the low prevalence of their combined residues. Risks by ingestion of contaminated pollen and honey are of some concern for systemic insecticides, particularly imidacloprid and thiamethoxam, chlorpyrifos and the mixtures of cyhalothrin and ergosterol inhibiting fungicides. More attention should be paid to specific residue mixtures that may result in synergistic toxicity to bees.