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Pesticides used to help bees may actually harm them

Save the bees

Die hard, the bee version.

Pesticides beekeepers are using to improve honeybee health may actually be harming the bees by damaging the bacteria communities in their guts. The discovery is a concern because alterations can affect the gut’s ability to metabolize sugars and peptides, processes that are vital for honeybee health.

Beekeepers typically apply pesticides to hives to rid them of harmful parasites such as Varroa mites.

“Although helpful for ridding hives of parasites and pathogens, the chemicals in beekeeper-applied pesticides can be harmful to the bees,” said Mark Williams, lead author.

“Our research suggests that pesticides could specifically impact the microbes that are crucial to honey bee nutrition and health.”

For the project, the team extracted genomic data from honey bees that lived in hives that were treated with pesticides (three different kinds) with those that were not. Samples were pulled from hives in three separate Blacksburg locations.

Honeybees from chlorothalonil-treated hives showed the greatest change in gut microbiome.

Looking ahead, the team plans to investigate the specific changes in gut microbiota activities that affect honeybee survival. Honeybees are the foundation of successful high-value food production.

“Our team wants to better describe the core microbiota using bioinformatics to help best characterize the microbes that support healthy honeybees and thus stave off disease naturally,” said co-author Richard Rodrigues.

In Virginia, the approximate rate of hive loss is more than 30 percent per year, and continued losses are expected to drive up the cost for important crops that bees make possible, such as apples, melon and squash.

Sources:
Madhavi Kakumanu, Alison M. Reeves, Troy Anderson, Richard R. Rodrigues, & Mark A. Williams (2016). Honey bee gut microbiome is altered by in-hive pesticide exposures Frontiers in Microbiology : 10.3389/fmicb.2016.01255

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