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In bee decline, fungicides emerge as improbable villain

By Blaine Friedlander

When a Cornell-led team of scientists analyzed two dozen environmental factors to understand bumblebee population declines and range contractions, they expected to find stressors like changes in land use, geography or insecticides.

Instead, they found a shocker: fungicides, commonly thought to have no impact.

“Insecticides work; they kill insects. Fungicides have been largely overlooked because they are not targeted for insects, but fungicides may not be quite as benign – toward bumblebees – as we once thought. This surprised us,” said Scott McArt, assistant professor of entomology and the lead author on a new study published Nov. 15 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

While science has studied insecticides, such as neonicotinoids, that attack bugs’ central nervous systems, this new work shows how fungicides – particularly chlorothalonil, a general-use fungicide often found in bumblebee and honeybee hives – may negatively affect bee health, said McArt, a fellow at Cornell’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future.

Building on a large data set collected by Sydney Cameron, professor of entomology at the University of Illinois, the scientists discovered what they call “landscape-scale” connections between fungicide usage, pathogen prevalence and declines of endangered United States bumblebees. (Landscape-scale refers to the area in which foraging bumblebees live, about 2 kilometers in diameter.)

While fungicides control plant pathogens in crops, the bees…[Read More]

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