Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Bees Are Buzzed

Wright et al, report in Science that "Caffeine in Floral Nectar Enhances a Pollinator's Memory of Reward".  Some flowers, including those of, of course, coffee plants, but also citrus and tea,  incorporate a bit of caffeine in their nectar.  Curiously, according to the authors, all the citrus varieties they studied did this but not all the coffee plants.  As any college bunny getting ready for exams knows, caffeine helps keep you alert and enhances the memory.  Fortunately the bees appear to dislike the taste of solutions with dangerous (to bees) levels of caffeine.  They will not be buzzing your energy drinks but they do have a fondness for sodas.

That's the good news.   The bad news is that bees are disappearing.  One of the causes is the use of neonicotinoid  pesticides and organophosphates.  The later has been used to wipe out Varroa mites, one of the major pests of bees.  It turns out that these pesticides make the bees stupid, wiping out brain cells that the bees use to learn things, like where the good caffine nectar is.  Industry, of course, doesn't want to know

"Christian Maus, a safety manager at Bayer Crop-Sciences which makes clothianidin, cautions that it's tough to determine what happens to bees in nature from this study, because it was conducted on isolated bee brains in direct contact with insecticides, without any of the normal protective barriers or metabolism."
Various organizations have filed a suit against EPA approval of two neonicotinoids because the effect on bees was not dealt with, other organizations are seeking ways to limit exposure.  For example, corn seeds are often coated with the neonicotinoids to protect the seeds from pests.  When the seeds rub against each other in hoppers during planting the neonicotinoids are released.  The newly formed Corn Dust Research Consortium recently accepted proposals to limit the pesticide dust, either by making the seeds stickier or limiting powders seed lubricants needed for flow of the seeds through mechanical planters.

The emphasis here is on commercial apiaries, but anyone walking about, even in the biggest cities knows that wild pollinators are also important.  Eli, for example,rents to a bunch of carpenter bees in his wooden fence.  Large, one could even say bumbling insects, they calmly go about their business, interacting with the birds and squirrels which make the miniature carrot patch a delight.  The wild pollinators are not having the best of times, which is bad news

Garibaldi, et al, again in Science, point out how key these guys are
The diversity and abundance of wild insect pollinators have declined in many agricultural landscapes. Whether such declines reduce crop yields, or are mitigated by managed pollinators such as honey bees, is unclear. We found universally positive associations of fruit set with flower visitation by wild insects in 41 crop systems worldwide. In contrast, fruit set increased significantly with flower visitation by honey bees in only 14% of the systems surveyed. Overall, wild insects pollinated crops more effectively; an increase in wild insect visitation enhanced fruit set by twice as much as an equivalent increase in honey bee visitation. . .
Human persistence depends on many natural processes, termed ecosystem services, which are usually not accounted for in market valuations. The global degradation of such services can undermine the ability of agriculture to meet the demands of the growing, increasingly affluent, human population (1, 2). Pollination of crop flowers by wild insects is one such vulnerable ecosystem service (3), as the abundance and diversity of these insects are declining in many agricultural landscapes (4, 5). 
 Garibaldi, et al, looked at the relative roles that domesticated and wild pollinators play in 41 crop systems distributed across the globe.  One might call this macroecology.  Burkle, Marlin and Knight,  replicated an  study in a small area, near Carlinville IL done by Charles Robinson in the late 1800s, who categorized the types of pollinators that visited different plants.  That study had already been replicated in the 1970s.

The news is not good.  The number of different interactions between plants and pollinators had declined by almost 50% (ok 46%)
Bee extirpations contributed substantially to the observed shifts in network structure. Of the 407 lost interactions, 45% (183) were lost because bee species were extirpated from the study region; all 26 forbs remained present. It is unlikely that the dramatic loss of bees observed in the contemporary data set resulted from differences in sampling effort between the historic and contemporary studies. Robertson observed the pollinators of each forb species for 1 to 2 years before moving on to other species. In our intensive resurvey over 2 years, we found less than half (54 of 109) of those bee species. Although Robertson’s sampling effort in each season is unknown, we were able to extrapolate our data based on sampling effort and found that our observations were close to the “true” richness (table S1). If Robertson’s sampling was less intense on a per plant species basis than ours, then the bee extirpations are a conservative estimate. Furthermore, the loss of bees was nonrandom, such that bees that were specialists, parasites, cavity-nesters, and/or those that participated in weak historic interactions were more likely to be extirpated (table S2), congruent with other findings. Specialists were lost more than generalists (even after correcting for potential observation bias), despite the fact that their host plants were still present 
With all types of pollinators declining the hard place is not as far away as one might hope.  Jason Tylianakis puts it bluntly
Are concerns of a pollinator crisis exaggerated, and can we make do with better management of honeybee colonies? Two articles in this issue provide compelling answers to these questions. On page 1611, Burkle et al. demonstrate that native wild pollinators are declining. On page 1608, Garibaldi et al. show that managed honeybees cannot compensate for this loss


AnonyDude said...

I believe we are part of a vast interconnect "net" in the biosphere that we are fraying, badly, with only the barest of hints as to the damage we're doing. Sure, we can say "Dodo, who cares about 'em?", but when I read about the fish stocks, and sharks, and bees, and what we've done to their numbers. We're messing up things about which we know far too little, and, I believe, to our peril.

Steve Bloom said...

And add recent news about the monarch butterflies. I haven't seen anything about the effect on other, non-pollinator insect species, but I find it hard to imagine they're not taking a big hit as well.

cRR Kampen said...

Thanks, Eli - I commented on this below the Thatcherthing.

They solved the problem in China, where they have some people, particularly kids. These do the pollination on untold numbers of fruit trees every year. We can do that to (and pay dues to Bayer, of course). Fun.

Ceterum censeo mundum esse delendum.

Hank Roberts said...

Thank you.


I'd just be bet the Monsanto Protection Act can be twisted to prevent effective regulation of new pesticides meant to be used to kill everything except GMO crops

Anonymous said...

"Denial of Beeing"
-- by Horatio Algeranon

Bees won't fly?
We won't cry
Or even ask why
Just deny
Until we die

Russell Seitz said...

As long as the coffee plantations get polinated, we'll muddle through.

Anonymous said...

Neonicotinoids are seed treatments to reduce the pest burden on crops. Get rid of neonics and how do you keep the pests down? Spraying different pesticides. Spraying of course has its own problems - namely spray drift where non-target plants are hit as well as the crop, something that doesn't occur with seed treatment.

There is another option - GM, particularly new techs aimed at reducing pesticide burden by engineering the ability to produce semiochemicals that repel aphids & attract parasitoids.

So, if you want to rule out neonics what alternative do you prefer?

One other thing - whilst theres certainly some pesticide effects on pollinator populations have you, or any of the reports you link to attempted to tease those effects from others that have also, undoubtably, had an effect?

Habitat destruction, climate change, nutrient enrichment, invasive species etc. all have their part to play, to lay the blame squarely at the feet of pesticides based on a couple of lab-based studies which haven't been replicated at the field scale seems, well, naive at best. This bunny expected better.


Russell Seitz said...

Could the Anonyspilosolipsist please explain how the neonicotinoids applied to the seeds end up in the bees which feed on the flowers some months later ?

Ian Forrester said...

I very much doubt that rDNA technology will result in "miracles for farmers". In fact the opposite is happening. Promoters of these crops seem to live in a blinkered world where they cannot, or refuse to, understand the many interactions involved in soil and crop ecology, especially as it relates to micro-organism and insects.

Recent research has shown that the use of BT genes in cotton has made the cotton more susceptible to herbivorous insects which were previously not a problem in cotton. It seems that the cotton plants produce a number of secondary metabolites when attacked by insects, in particular lepidopteran larvae. These metabolites prevent attack by other insects such as aphids. BT cotton suppresses the attack by the lepidopteran larvae and this results in a decrease in the insecticidal secondary metabolites (various terpenoids) allowing the aphids to flourish.

Government funds for agricultural research should be funneled into projects which look at a holistic approach to agriculture and not on the blinkered research promoted by large multinational companies which are not interested in helping the farmer only in increasing their bottom lines.

Anonymous said...


"Adult worker honeybees (Apis mellifera mellifera) were anaesthetized on ice and the intact brain isolated while submerged in extracellular solution." [and] "Antagonists and pesticides were bath-applied via the extracellular solution."

If you were asking how this happens in the wider environment then I refer you to my previous post and to the comment Eli quoted above: "it's tough to determine what happens to bees in nature from this study" but then, certain parties don't want to know that.

The semiochemical research I refer to above is public-funded research with a public pledge from the scientists involved that they "will not be patented and will not be owned by any private company. If our wheat proves to be beneficial we want it to be available to farmers around the world at minimum cost,"


Ian Forrester said...

The researcher in charge of that wheat research is a well known shill for the GMO industry. Here is a quote:

"Prof. Pickett claimed the wheat trial had a public mandate because of its approval by the public funding body for the biological sciences, the BBSRC, which has backed the trial to the tune of one million pounds. But the BBSRC has a long history of alignment with industry, with a director of the GM giant Syngenta sitting on their council along with a consultant for Dow Agro Science."

Corporate funding and promotion is not what I am talking about. This research has all the hallmarks of typical GM company products, it has got nothing to do with UK farmers' interests but everything to do with helping the multinational companies.

Why is this research being conducted with UK money when aphids are not a major problem in the UK but a big problem in the US?

Here are two quotes from Dr.Colin Tudge, a trained scientist who is a 3-time winner of the Science Writer of the Year Award.

"......frighteningly little agricultural research is financed directly by the government, directly for the public weal. The AFRC has been replaced by the BBSRC (the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council — agriculture has ceased to exist as a discrete discipline) which uses taxpayers’ money primarily to carry out the kind of research that could be of use to big commercial companies. A generation of scientists has grown up who apparently think that this is the norm – that nothing can or should happen without commercial sponsorship, with a huge pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Research projects that do not offer rapid financial returns remain entirely unfinanced except sometimes by NGOs who may be financed by charities – or indeed by farmers working off their own bat.


Finally, on a general point, we should be asking whether agricultural strategy in Britain, and indeed in the world, is being framed by the most appropriate people. In particular, we may note that practicing farmers do not seem to be involved – apart from the industrial farmers of the NFU. Even in this age of top-down bureaucracy, we would not expect governments to frame medical strategy without involving doctors, or education policy without teachers. But farmers who are not part of big business are routinely sidelined. This is very dangerous (as demonstrated by the numerous breakdowns in the health of livestock over the past few decades)".

Anonymous said...


GM is a side issue with regards to the OP but lets look at your argument.

Your first (unattributed*) quote is no more than ad hom but bears scrutiny - the researchers have publicly pledged no patents - it's there in black & white but still let's ignore that & shout about multinationals, perhaps people won't notice. Are you accusing the scientists of lying? Maybe you should hack their emails to find out.

Dr. Colin Tudge is no doubt a eminent researcher - though his website reveals no evidence of any impact on the peer-reviewed literature. But to laud him whilst smearing Prof. Pickett - A Fellow of the Royal Society with 445 peer-reviewed papers in the ISI database, awarded the Wolf prize for agriculture in 2008 (etc.) seems a little one-eyed.

The rest of your comments seem rather ill-informed. Aphid-related losses in the UK are in the region of £100 million annually in cereals alone - I'd say that was something other than "not a major problem". Factor in the emergence of pesticide resistance in the cereal aphid (Sitobion avenae) and that problem then becomes bigger. I'd check your sources.

Tudge, by the way is speaking out of his fundament when he claims farmers do not have a stake in research. For a start, the levy boards like HGCA & BBRO are major players in crop research in the UK & Europe. If he's that ill-informed on this issue one wonders how well informed a campaigner he really is.

Oops, I said campaigner not scientist but then to be seen as the latter rather than a "science writer" you need to, well do some science. Let's not forget, the abomination that is WUWT is regularly voted "best science blog". Science Writer of the Year has a similar ring dontcha think?

*but easy to track down to that acme of clear-thinking science GMwatch...

Ian Forrester said...

It is ironic, but par for the course, that anonymous accuses me of ad hominem comments. Let's look at some of the history that Pickett has in terms of GMO products. Remember the Lancet paper by Arpad Putzai? Lancet sent the paper out to 6 reviewers , one of them being Pickett. Five of the reviewers said the paper should be published but the 6th, Pickett said NO. Pickett then went on a rant about the paper which consisted of a multitude of lies. He can probably be called the first GMO shill, certainly in the UK.

Here is a quote from Rothhamsted's own web cite as to who is funding their research:

"Our portfolio of industrial partners includes global agri-biotech companies such as Syngenta, Dow Agrosciences, Bayer Agriculture, BASF and Monsanto and multinational organisations such as British Sugar and Novozymes Biologicals Inc.".

So my comments cannot be construed as "ad hominem".

The only ad hominem comments are actually supplied by anonymous when he suggests that web sites critical of GMO companies are equivalent to WUWT. Nothing could be further from the truth since a large number of these web sites are run by professional scientists who have great experience in the area, unlike those running WUWT, Bishop Hill and Tallbloke.

Anonymous said...


Another unattributed smear on Pickett (who, incidentally is a driving force behind push-pull agriculture, a low tech alternative to GM in Africa*). As with any science-denial talking point it is full of holes and half-truths. The Lancet paper was deeply flawed as ALL SIX reviewers indicated**.

If you can't see that the "multinationals are evil therefore their science is a money-grabbing hoax" is just the other side of the coin from "environmentalist watermelons are evil therefore their science is a money-grabbing hoax" then that's not my fault.

Besides, returning to my original point - getting rid of neonics because of a small number of lab-based studies means that they will have to be replaced. The alternatives are more spraying, GM or if you'd prefer, industrial organic (led by the likes of Kraft & PepsiCo***, but it's organic so it must be OK). Be careful what you wish for...




AnonySpilopsylla (as was the previous Anon - apologies)

EliRabett said...

You did follow the link to the Corn Dust Research Consortium? No, well RTFR to figure out other things that can be done. Losing the pollinators is a mega issue

Anonymous said...


RTFR Proposals you mean?

Remind me, when is the corn dust in the environment (planting time)? When do honey (and other) bees switch from winter flowering shrubs to flowering herbs?

If you want to RTFR then perhaps a glance at some of the following may be enlightening:


Ian Forrester said...

AnonySpilopsylla said:

"The Lancet paper was deeply flawed as ALL SIX reviewers indicated"

This is just not true. Here is a synopsis of the reviewers comments:

"Due to the controversial nature of his research the letter was reviewed by six reviewers - three times the usual number. Four reviewers found it acceptable after revisions. A fifth thought it was flawed, but wanted it published "to avoid suspicions of a conspiracy against Pusztai and to give colleagues a chance to see the data for themselves". The sixth, John Pickett of the Institute of Arable Crops Research, also thought it was flawed. After consulting with the Royal Society, Pickett publicly criticised the Lancet for agreeing to publish the study".

I will give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he mixed up the in house audit committee set up by the RI to audit Pusztai's results with the 6 reviewers from the Lancet paper. All 6 auditors (doesn't that word have a nasty aroma to it e.g. CA?) claimed that the results were badly flawed. However, 22 independent scientists who asked to see his results supported Dr. Pusztai and said "Dr Pusztai was right to be concerned and should never have been attacked or suspended":

He fills his posts once again with ad hominem comments such as comparing those of us who can see the flaws in how GMO are approved as "watermelons". This is an insult to the many independent (no cheques from the GMO companies) scientists who have grave concerns as to the many benefits of GMOs touted by their producers. I challenge AnonySpilopsylla to come up with even one which can be proved by peer reviewed science. All the so called benefits are just myths put out by the PR companies hired by the producers. Yes, there have been a few short lived benefits but I am talking about prolonged benefits. There are of course many examples in the peer reviewed scientific literature of the many problems with GMOs.

Anonymous said...


The report was flawed, two independent reviews agreed the report was flawed, including one by the Royal Society:

But because Pickett pointed out these flaws first he is a shill. I get it, smear the individual. Where have I seen those tactics?

You draw links between the Royal Society & McIntyres blog audit - do you really want to go down that route? Really? Does Ian Forrester really believe that Climate Audit is equivalent to the Royal Society?

We can, of course, look at the history of petitions by "independent" scientists if you like. At least these guys didn't put Alan Titchmarsh on their list.

Watermelons: I was drawing parallels between your view of GM researchers and the Wattsians view of climate scientists - hence two sides of the same coin.

Lets see, so far in this thread we have unreferenced talking points picked up from single-issue websites, we have claims backed up by links to these same websites or to news reports not original science, we have the results of flawed studies that have been touted to the media & their claims inflated given as some kind of gospel, we have reference to scientists being in it for the money or the PR, we have reference to petitions signed by "independent scientists", we've not yet had a poptech-style list of papers questioning the science but I'm sure you've got that ready. Take a good look at yourself Ian. What I see from your posts is science denial and it is just as pathetically abhorrent to me as climate change denial, anti-vaxxers and ID advocates.

The same issue is seen in the OP. A potential (note potential) issue with a product is discovered when bees brains are bathed in it. This then leads to cries of ban the substance, people who question the applicability of the research are dismissed as shills and no apparent thought is given to any (or in this case) all other issues that are affecting bees and other pollinators in today's environment or to what the alternatives are. It's weak, it's one-eyed and it smacks of allowing one's biases to cloud one's judgement. As I said earlier, this bunny expected better.


Ian Forrester said...

It would appear that AS is closely associated with the pesticide and GMO industry since his comments are reflective of the PR put out by these companies and not by what is now being found in the peer reviewed scientific literature. It is atrocious that scientists have to risk their careers to shed light on what is now being found out about GMOs and their associated pesticides. Every time a scientist has the courage to publish their results they are vilified by a well orchestrated band of lynch mob mentality corporate sycophants hiding behind the Science Media Centre. These people claim to be independent and unbiased but they are anything but. These people can be easily tracked and the majority have very close ties to the Biotechnology Industry.

I checked a couple of the comments from the RS's audit team. It appears that they mostly criticized the experimental protocol that Arpad Puaztai used. If they had taken the time to investigate what went on behind the scenes they would have discovered that the RI team had been selected from a large number of applicants to check out the safety of the GM potato produced by the Rothamsted institution. The protocols were carefully examined and were deemed to be appropriate for the project. I'm sure that the team of scientists involved at the RI would have preferred a larger more expensive project but when you are given a budget which has been approved you do as suggested.

Here is a comment from one of these auditors:
"It is important to note that these experiments
report the effects of one insertion of one transgene by one
method, with the results tested by its effects on growth and
immune responsiveness (recorded on one strain of one species at
one age)".

Has that "scientist" ever done any experimental work, is he aware of the huge costs in doing even a limited study? Other comments are of a similar nature and show that the auditors reached a preconceived agreement that Dr. Pusztai had to be vilified.

Within a year, the leader of the RI internal audit completely turned around on his views about GM food.

"A leading pro-GM scientist has called for safer tests in genetically modified crop trials.

Dr Andrew Chesson admitted that some current safety tests could allow harmful substances to enter the human food chain.

Food under the microscope

Dr Chesson is a senior researcher at the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen, where last year Dr Arpad Pusztai publicised a study suggesting that GM potatoes could damage the immune system of rats.

Then, Dr Chesson sought to reassure the public in the subsequent furore over GM trials. Now, however, he has warned that those tests could be flawed in some cases".

The potentially flawed tests he is referring to are the ridiculous "substantial equivalence" tests established by Monsanto and the corrupt regulatory system in the US. It is corrupt since there is a revolving door of personnel between the regulators and the companies requiring such a minimal testing protocol.

The testing protocols for pesticides are equally poor, that is probably why the neonicotinoids were approved in the first place. Much greater care must be taken in examining the ecological effects of these novel and potentially harmful technologies.

AS has still not provided us with one long term benefit attributable to GMOs.

Anonymous said...

The testing protocols for pesticides are equally poor, that is probably why the neonicotinoids were approved in the first place.

Actually, Ian, in the US many pesticides (including neonics) are being given a "pass" by the EPA under "conditional registration" loophole in the law

In other words, the system ain't broken, it's fixed.


Anonymous said...


Bingo! An accusation that I'm part of the conspiracy. You really are too predictable.

I note the scare quotes around scientist there - can't take it that scientists are able to objectively view a piece of pants, overhyped research.

I tire of reading your denialist diatribes so I'll bow out & leave you the last word but, just for you, here's a hockeystick to attack in fine Wattsian fashion - the increase in yield in Indian cotton is detailed in Fig. 7 of this report:

(please also check out figure 2. I know Indian cotton farmers are a trigger point for more denialist talking points so check it first to save me coming back to laugh at you).


Ian Forrester said...

AS cherry picks his data just like the AGW deniers. He is claiming (from Figutre 7 in his cited paper) that cotton production suddenly increased with the introduction of BT cotton in India. Is that graph and discussion honest? Unfortunately, it is not. The increase in cotton yields between 2002 and 2005 can hardly be due to the use of BT cotton since only 5.6% of the cotton crop was BT in 2004/2005. Since that time yields increased as BT cotton acreage increased but only at a very low rate until it reached a maximum in 2006/2007 and has stagnated since then. Costs of everything has gone up and more pesticide has to be used because of the increase in sucking insects on the crop. Hardly a ringing endorsement for BT cotton.

"Currently, the main issue that worries stakeholders is the stagnation of productivity at an average of 500 kg lint per ha for the past seven years. The gains have been stagnant and unaffected by the increase in area of Bt cotton from 5.6% in 2004 to 85% in 2010.

The yield was 463 kg per hectare when the Bt cotton area was 5.6% in 2004 and reached a mere 506 kg per hectare when the area under Bt cotton increased to 9.4 M hectares at 85% of the total 11.1 M hectares.

Other concerns relate to the enhanced problems of sap-sucking insects such as leaf hoppers, aphids, whiteflies and thrips on the vast majority of susceptible Bt hybrids".

Ian Forrester said...

Further to the discussion on neonicotinoids the European Union has just voted to ban their use in Europe. The UK voted against the ban. The honest and independent scientists in the UK must be getting fed up with the arrogant behaviour of their Government and Government appointed scientists such as Dr. Mark Walport who denounced the ban. He is a scientist and is supposed to perform his duty as Chief Scientist according to scientific principles which he and his predecessors don't do.

Further to AS's comments about coming back to laugh at me. I'm afraid he is sadly mistaken since Bt cotton is no laughing matter for Indian cotton farmers. Even the politicians are now admitting that the Bt cotton in Maharashtra state is a failure.