New research project on bees puts the spotlight on insecticides

Worldwide, beekeepers report about increasing mortality among honey bees. A new European research project with participation from the Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, will now investigate the effects of insecticides on bees to stop the deadly development.

2018.10.31 | Lea Laursen Pasgaard

The most recent figures from the Danish Beekeepers Association show that almost one in five Danish bee colonies died in the winter of 2017. Photo: Pixabay

The most recent figures from the Danish Beekeepers Association show that almost one in five Danish bee colonies died in the winter of 2017. Photo: Pixabay

The recent increasing mortality among the world's small, buzzing honey producers is a concern for both beekeepers and researchers all over the world. One of the contributors to the declining abundance of bees is thought to be some of the types of insecticides that are used in conventional agriculture to protect crops against pests. A new European research project with participation from the Department of Bioscience, AU, will now investigate the side effects on bees, so that we in the future will be better equipped to assess the hazards for bees and stop the deadly development.

Extensive tests in four agricultural landscapes

"Unfortunately, we see that some insecticides have a detrimental effect on beneficial insects, as for instance honey bees. Of course, all substances go through a thorough examination before being marketed, but the standard laboratory tests last 48 hours and do not take into account the long-term effects on survival or propagation. They do not include other stress factors such as hunger and diseases that affect the bees in real life,” says senior researcher Yoko Luise Dupont from Department of Bioscience, who heads the research project.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is financing the project, which will go into depth with these factors, and four different agricultural landscapes in Jutland and on Zealand will form the framework for the research project's experiments. At Aarhus University's experimental centres in Foulum and Flakkebjerg two rape fields covering six hectares each will be sprayed with an insecticide that is toxic to bees. Here, and at two comparable organic fields in the nearby area, five experimental bee families will live. These are the bees that the researchers will examine.

New ways of using computer simulation

According to Yoko Luise Dupont, the research project differentiates itself from previous studies of the effects of insecticides on bees.

"We will follow the development of the bees by examining, for instance, the number of eggs, larvae and adults very closely. In addition, we will study pollen collection and honey production, where and at which plants the bees look for food, which insecticides they bring home, and whether they are infected with diseases and parasites. All this information we will use to investigate whether our new computer simulation model can predict how real honey bee families behave in a real landscape," explains Yoko Luise Dupont.

A research team including of, among others, professor with special responsibilities (MSO) Christopher John Topping from Department of Bioscience is currently working on the development of the new, advanced computer model.

"It will hopefully be a tool that can be used as a supplement to the existing laboratory tests. The ultimate goal is that we can improve the method used today to assess the toxicity of substances to bees so that we may obtain a more realistic estimate of the side effects. Our previous studies have shown that complexities outside the laboratory can affect the toxic effects of the substances," explains Yoko Luise Dupont.

For further information please contact:
Senior researcher Yoko Luise Dupont, Department of Bioscience, yoko.dupont@bios.au.dk, phone.: 2134 3591

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