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Daily News Blog

20
Jul

Designated Pollinator Habitat Areas Still Put Pollinators At Risk

(Beyond Pesticides, July 20, 2016) Farmers and land managers across the U.S. are being encouraged to plant pollinator habitat adjacent to farmlands to provide shelter and food for pollinator species. But according to a new study published last week, these conservation areas still put bees at risk for pesticide contamination, as they fail to provide spatial or temporal relief. This study emphasizes that meaningful solutions to reversing pollinator decline does not lie with focusing on planting pollinator habitat, but ensuring that these refuge areas are free from pesticide contamination, highly toxic to bees and other pollinators, and reducing the reliance on toxic chemical inputs in agriculture and other landscapes.

hedgerowThe study, “Neonicotinoid-contaminated pollinator strips adjacent to cropland reduce honey bee nutritional status,” finds that pollinator habitat adjacent to agricultural areas not only becomes a source for pesticide, especially neonicotinoid, exposures, but also poses significant risk to honey bees. The authors, Christina Mogren, PhD, and former USDA entomologist, Jonathan Lundgren, PhD, initially sought to study whether increasing forage by planting pollinator habitat in an agricultural-dominated region would serve to buffer against the harmful effects of plant-incorporated pesticides. However, the authors note that it soon became apparent that the unintended consequence was that these planted habitats become a source for neonicotinoid exposure.

In testing for clothianidin, the neonicotinoid most widely used to coat corn and soybean seeds planted across farmlands in much of the U.S., residues were ubiquitous in leaf tissue and honey. Higher levels of clothianidin were detected in nectar collected by bees. One major caveat emerging from this study was that levels of clothianidin in habitat adjacent to organic fields had similar residues in leaf tissues and honey when compared to areas with coated seeds, with the exception of bee bread which had lower levels. Clothianidin-coated seeds are not permitted in certified organic production. Although organic farmers take precautions to limit the extent of pesticide drift and contamination trespassing unto their harms, this study finds that these precautions apparently fail to sufficiently protect from pesticide contamination, and that habitat near organic farms may not provide sufficient refuge for pollinators with widespread chemical-intensive agriculture.

According to the study, clothianidin uptake in plants within designated pollinator habitat was the same at treated and untreated sites, and is present in plants tissues throughout the growing season. The residues detected were at levels that impair the reproductive potential of honey bee queens and impact hive overwintering success. Drs. Mogren and Lundgren conclude that the placement of designated pollinator habitats needs to be carefully considered, given the study shows that these areas set aside for conservation do not provide spatial or temporal relief from neonicotinoid exposures in agricultural regions where their use is largely prophylactic. “In all likelihood, reducing bee exposures to these pesticides will require reductions in their use across the landscape and a movement away from prophylactic applications towards more integrated pest management strategies…”

The findings of this study challenge one of the central recommendations in  the recent  White House Pollinator Protection Action Plan, which focuses primarily on planting pollinator habitats, particularly in agricultural areas, urging farmers and land managers to use best management practices to minimize impacts to bees. Little to no mention was made about addressing pesticides known to be highly toxic to bees and other pollinators. Until there is a shift from continued and pervasive pesticide use across all landscapes, bees and other pollinators will continue to be at risk. A recent government-sponsored survey, conducted by Bee Informed reports that beekeepers lost 44 percent of their colonies between April 2015 and April 2016. Bee losses continue to be elevated and unsustainable.

Pesticides have been identified as a major contributing factor in pollinator decline and both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) lead federal efforts to reverse the decline and restore healthy populations. However, very little meaningful action has been taken to address pesticide impacts on pollinators, and industry groups have been working to weaken and derail any pesticide reforms at state and local levels that may protect pollinators. Even a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report finds that USDA and EPA are not doing enough to protect pollinators. EPA has made some pesticide label amendments and proposals to restrict pesticide use under certain conditions however beekeepers and activists say these measures are not enough. Currently EPA is reviewing the neonicotinoid class of pesticides, found to be highly toxic to honey bees and linked to numerous bee die-offs and bee impairments. Its preliminary pollinator assessment for imidacloprid earlier this year identified several risks to bees, including use on cotton and citrus crops. Assessments for the other neonicotinoids are due out later this year.

In light of the  shortcomings of federal action  to protect these beneficial organisms, it is left up to us to ensure that we provide safe havens for pollinators by creating pesticide-free habitat and educating others to do the same.  Take action by calling on EPA to suspend neonicotinoids now. You can also declare your garden, yard, park or other space as pesticide-free and pollinator friendly. It does not matter how large or small your pledge is, as long as you contribute to the creation of safe pollinator habitat.  Sign the pledge today! Need ideas on creating the perfect pollinator habitat? The  Bee Protective Habitat Guide  can tell you which native plants are right for your region. For more information on what you can do, visit our  BEE Protective  page.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Nature.com

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