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Land conversion and pesticide use degrade forage areas for honey bees in America’s beekeeping epicenter

May 13, 2021

A diverse range of threats have been associated with managed bee declines globally. Recent increases of two known threats, land-use change and pesticide use, have resulted from agricultural expansion and intensification notably in the top honey producing state in the United States (U.S.): North Dakota. This study investigated the dual threat from land conversion and pesticide use surrounding ~14,000 registered apiaries in North Dakota from 2001 to 2014. We estimated the annual total insecticide use (kg) on major crops within 1.6 km of apiary sites. Of the eight insecticides, six showed significant increasing trends over the time period. Specifically, applications of the newly established neonicotinoids Chlothianidin, Imidacloprid and Thiamethoxam, increased annually by 1329 kg, 686 kg, 795 kg, respectively. Also, the use of Chlorpyrifos, which was well-established by 2001 and is highly toxic to honey bees, increased by ~8,800 kg annually from 6,500 kg in 2001 to 115,000 kg in 2014 on corn, soybeans and wheat. We further evaluated the relative quality changes of natural/semi-natural land covers surrounding apiaries in 2006, 2010 and 2014, a period of significant increases in cropland area. In areas surrounding apiaries, we observed changes in multiple indices of forage quality that reflect the deteriorating landscape surrounding registered apiary sites due to land-use change and pesticide-use increases. Overall, our results suggest that the application of foliar-applied insecticides, including pyrethroids and one organophosphate, increased surrounding apiaries when the use of neonicotinoid seed treatment surged and the area for producing corn and soybeans expanded. Spatially, these threats were most pronounced in southeastern North Dakota, a region hosting a high density of apiary sites that has recently experienced corn and soybean expansion. Our results highlight the values of natural and semi-natural land covers as sources of pollinator forage and providing refugia for bees against pesticide exposure. Our study provides insights for targeting conservation efforts to improve forage quality for benefiting managed pollinators.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2021
Title Land conversion and pesticide use degrade forage areas for honey bees in America’s beekeeping epicenter
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0251043
Authors Dan J. Dixon, Haochi Zheng, Clint R. V. Otto
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title PLoS ONE
Series Number
Index ID 70223428
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center