Bees as Bellwether: a Silent Spring Sequel?

On the first day of summer 2013, agriculture officials confirmed that 50,000 bees—likely representing more than 300 colonies—discovered dead in a shopping mall parking lot in Wilsonville, Oregon, were done in by a neonicotinoid pesticide sprayed on nearby trees. The next week hundreds of dead bees turned up in Hillsboro, Oregon, where trees were treated with the same pesticide.

Neonicotinoid pesticides were first registered for use in the mid-1990s. Since then, they have become widely adopted for use on crops, ornamental landscaping, and trees. Seeds commonly are soaked in neonicotinoids before they are planted. Not only do the toxic chemicals infiltrate the entire plant, including the pollen and nectar bees come in contact with, but they also contaminate and persist in the environment and soil. In mid-August, out of growing concern for bees and other insect pollinators, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced new labeling requirements for neonicotinoid pesticides. At least one group—the American Bird Conservancy—is calling on the EPA to take much stronger action and suspend all uses of neonicotinoids pending independent review of their effects on birds, terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates, and other wildlife. 

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