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PU Study: Honeybees Pick Up More Pesticides Than Thought, Home Gardens Contribute

Tom Campbell
Purdue University

A new study from Purdue University finds honeybees are exposed to far more pesticides than previously thought.

Most research on pesticide use and honeybees focus on neonicotinoids, an insecticide applied to corn and soybean crops that’s harmful to bees.

But Purdue entomology professor Christian Krupke wanted to know what happens to bees when they’re not feeding on crop pollen.

“So one of the surprising things we found is the diversity of pollen bees find out there,” he says. “And, secondly, the range and diversity and abundance of pesticides we found that weren’t correlated with what was going on in the agriculture fields right around them.”

That means a majority of the pollen bees collect is from plants other than crops, plants like those you would put in your backyard.

It also means bees are exposed to the pesticides applied to those residential plants. 

Krupke says there’s a lesson here for people with pollinator gardens that attract bees.

“You have to commit to not using, not only not using insecticides on that plant, but perhaps in the area all around it,” he says.

Pesticides are linked to the widespread loss of honeybee colonies.

Nationwide, 44 percent of honeybee colonies were lost last year. 

This is the first study to look at how non-crop plants expose honeybees to pesticides.

The study was published in Nature Communications on May 31, 2016.

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