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Neonicotinoid sunflower seed treatment, while not detected in pollen and nectar, still impacts wild bees and crop yield

June 6, 2023

Neonicotinoid seed treatments are commonly used in agricultural production even though their benefit to crop yield and their impact on pollinators, particularly wild bees, remains unclear. Using an on-farm matched pair design in which half of each field was sown with thiamethoxam treated seed and half without, we assessed honey bee and wild bee exposure to pesticides in sunflower fields by analyzing pesticide residues in field soil, sunflower pollen and nectar, pollen-foraging and nec-tar-foraging honey bees, and a sunflower specialist wild bee (Melissodes agilis). We also quantified the effects of thiamethoxam-treated seed on wild bee biodiversity and crop yield. M. agilis abundance was significantly lower with thiamethoxam treatment and overall wild bee abundance trending lower but was not significantly different. Furthermore, crop yield was significantly lower in plots with thiamethoxam treatment, even though thiamethoxam was only detected at low concentrations in one soil sample (and its primary metabolite, clothianidin, was never detected). Conversely, wild bee richness was significantly higher and diversity was marginally higher with thiamethoxam treatment. Nectar volumes harvested from the nectar-foraging honey bees were also significantly higher with thiamethoxam treatment. Several pesticides that were not used in the sunflower fields were detected in our samples, some of which are known to be deleterious to bee health, highlighting the importance of the landscape scale in the assessment of pesticide exposure for bees. Overall, our results suggest that thiamethoxam seed treatments may negatively impact wild bee pollination services in sunflower. Importantly, this study highlights the advantages of the inclusion of other metrics, such as biodiversity or behavior, in pesticide risk analysis, as pesticide residue analysis, as an independent metric, may erroneously miss the impacts of field realistic pesticide exposure on bees.

Publication Year 2023
Title Neonicotinoid sunflower seed treatment, while not detected in pollen and nectar, still impacts wild bees and crop yield
DOI 10.3390/agrochemicals2020018
Authors Laura T. Ward, Michelle Hladik, Aidee Guzman, Ariana Bautista, Nicholas Mills
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Agrochemicals
Index ID 70244185
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization California Water Science Center