Robots reveal: commonly used pesticides harm bee behavior and metabolism

Scientists, automated robots, and mini-backpacks equipped with tiny QR codes team up to finally understand how pesticides harm the lives of bees. Read the full scientific article here and check out the lead author’s, James Crall’s, website for details and more awesome video.

Crall JD, Switzer CM, Oppenheimer RL, Ford Versypt A, Dey B, Brown B, Eyster M, Guérin C, Pierce NE, Combes SA, de Bivort BL (2018).  Neonicotinoid exposure disrupts bumblebee nest behavior, social networks, and thermoregulationScience 362, 683–686. PDF

Photo by James Crawl: Bumblebee  (Bombus impatiens)  wearing a simplified QR code for individual recognition and tracking

Photo by James Crawl: Bumblebee (Bombus impatiens) wearing a simplified QR code for individual recognition and tracking

 

Neonicotinoid pesticides are widely used to protect our crops from insect pests, but neonicotinoids don’t discriminate, as they also target beneficial insects like pollinating bees. This class of pesticides disrupts an animal’s nervous system affecting their behaviors and physiology.

USDA estimated annual imidacloprid use in the US for 2016.

USDA estimated annual imidacloprid use in the US for 2016.

 

The neonicotinoid imidacloprid is applied to an estimated 1 million pounds of vegetables, fruit, and soy annually in the US, and the pesticide can remain in plant tissue for up to 230 days after application.

USDA estimated annual imidacloprid use by crop in the US, 2016. Celebrate in that the total estimated annual imidacloprid use has decreased by 1 million pounds of food in recent years.

USDA estimated annual imidacloprid use by crop in the US, 2016. Celebrate in that the total estimated annual imidacloprid use has decreased by 1 million pounds of food in recent years.

Harvard scientists developed an automated robot to continuously track the behavior of bees to characterize the negative effects of eating ecologically relevant levels of imidacloprid (levels of imidacloprid that they would encounter in the wild).

Specifically, researchers determined that consuming this pesticide harmed bee behavior and the colony’s ability to regulate their nest temperature. Tracking data gathered by the robot revealed that eating imidacloprid impaired normal bee behavior after both a single exposure and repeated exposure to the pesticide.

Example using the BEEtag software (https://github.com/jamescrall/BEEtag) to track individual bumblebees 24 hours after consuming 0.1 ng (blue) or 1.0 ng (red) of imidacloprid, or a control sucrose solution (green).

Bees that consumed daily doses of imidacloprid and bees that ate one single dose of imidacloprid both decreased the amount of time they spent active, the time they spent nursing, and the proportion of time they interacted with other bees compared to bees eating normal nectar. Bees eating imidacloprid also spend more time on the outside of the colony away from the food storage hub and nursery.

Crall et al. 2018, Figure 1 D-G. Colony mean percentage of time active over 7 consecutive days (with time indicating hours after exposure) during the daily imidacloprid exposure experiment . Filled circles represent mean activity levels for a single colony (averaged across all individual workers) for a single 5-min trial, and solid lines show mean values for treatment groups (control colonies, n = 9, in green; imidacloprid-exposed colonies, n = 9, in red). Gray blocks and Sun/Moon symbols show the 14:10 hour L:D cycle in the tracking arena. (E) Percentage of time engaged in nursing. (F) Mean distance to the nest center and (G) social network density [proportion of possible pairwise interactions between workers that actually occur, during a single 5-min trial

Crall et al. 2018, Figure 1 D-G. Colony mean percentage of time active over 7 consecutive days (with time indicating hours after exposure) during the daily imidacloprid exposure experiment . Filled circles represent mean activity levels for a single colony (averaged across all individual workers) for a single 5-min trial, and solid lines show mean values for treatment groups (control colonies, n = 9, in green; imidacloprid-exposed colonies, n = 9, in red). Gray blocks and Sun/Moon symbols show the 14:10 hour L:D cycle in the tracking arena. (E) Percentage of time engaged in nursing. (F) Mean distance to the nest center and (G) social network density [proportion of possible pairwise interactions between workers that actually occur, during a single 5-min trial

An experiment set in the field with natural conditions revealed that bee physiology is also harmed by short term pesticide consumption. Bee colonies weren’t able to regulate their nest’s temperature after 1-2 hours of intermittent feeding on nectar containing imidacloprid. Whereas, colonies feeding on normal nectar maintained nest temperatures above outdoor temperatures.

Crall et al. 2018, Figure 3 C. Brood versus outdoor temperatures for control, normal nectar fed colonies (C, green) and treated, imidacloprid fed (IM, red). Transparent markers show individual measurements across all colonies, and solid lines show LOESS-smoothed trends by treatment.

Crall et al. 2018, Figure 3 C. Brood versus outdoor temperatures for control, normal nectar fed colonies (C, green) and treated, imidacloprid fed (IM, red). Transparent markers show individual measurements across all colonies, and solid lines show LOESS-smoothed trends by treatment.

These elegant series of experiments present new automated technology that enables scientists to answer detailed questions about context specific insect behavior, movement, and social dynamics. The future possibilities are endless: How will bees respond to other pesticides, contaminates, or disease? How do these challenges affect other insect species? How do different insect species socially interact?

But also as a take-home message: don’t use or support neonicotinoid pesticides.
EPA’s action to protect pollinators & ways you can help

Erik Stokstad AAS Science provides an overview of the study, https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/11/new-tracking-system-could-show-last-how-pesticides-are-harming-bee-colonies

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About the author:
Kristen J. DeMoranville @Kris10DeMo is a Ph.D. student researching the effects of diet and long-distance flight on a migratory songbird in Scott McWilliams lab at the University of Rhode Island

Source: https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/f7293c_5c22905f830440dc8f24131ae5661c0b.pdf

Todd McLeish: science writer

Read my phone interview with Todd McLeish, professional science writer and communicator. Todd has written hundreds of articles and 4 books focusing on the natural history of wildlife and some of the things that threaten them. During our conversation, Todd talks more about his work and provides you science communication aspirers some tips for achieving your goal.

How did the Sea otter, the most playful and adorable animal on the planet, evade extinction? Todd McLeish tells you their story in his new book,    Return of the Sea otter   . Sea otter surfacing on the Pacific coast, USA  Photo credit: Renay McLeish

How did the Sea otter, the most playful and adorable animal on the planet, evade extinction? Todd McLeish tells you their story in his new book, Return of the Sea otter. Sea otter surfacing on the Pacific coast, USA Photo credit: Renay McLeish

Todd: Hi, this is Todd

Kristen: Hi, Todd. Thanks for taking my call.

Todd: Oh, I'm glad to help. I don't mind at all! Throw your questions at me. Let me know what I can do for you.

Kristen: You have written many articles, essays, and books. If you had to condense it all, and boil it all down to one central them what would it be, or could you even do that?

Todd: Well, I'm an animal guy. That's mostly what I'm interested in. So, that's the subject matter that I try to focus on. When I'm writing my books I pick a subject that I can have a fun adventure with, but it's mostly about conservation of wildlife. That is really the main focus of what I like to write about.

Kristen: Yeah, reading some of your work, it did seem to me that maybe one of your motivations was to raise awareness about species that could use our help, help from humans.

Todd: Okay. So, from that perspective you're absolutely correct.  I mean, so again getting people to think about these animals, and to appreciate them, and to want to protect them.

Kristen: Yeah, I think that's a very admirable goal.

Todd: Yeah, and that's, I mean that's what my life is all about. I love to go out and look for wildlife because wildlife is cool, and I'm excited about it, and I want to be able to share that excitement with others. Whether it is from my stories, whether it's through my books, whether it is from leading nature walks, whether it's from speaking about these subjects on cruise ships and wherever else anybody else wants to hear me.

Kristen: Do you think that this excitement that you feel about this topic is an important piece of this communication career that you're building? Do you think that enthusiasm helps you get your messages across?

Todd: It absolutely does, and I'll tell you to be honest, one of the things that I do is I give a whole lot of public presentations for pay. I'm upbeat, I tell funny stories, I am excited about these animals and wanting to protect them, and that enthusiasm comes through certainly in my presentations. It's sometimes a little bit hard to get that enthusiasm to carry through into books, you know, but that is also pretty key. To generate some enthusiasm with your writing, and get people were reading to say, oh, this is a cool animal, and gosh we should do what we can to protect them.

Kristen: Right, so your audience that you're writing for are generally non-scientists. Is that how you would sort of describe them?

Todd: Yeah. I generally describe my audience as Audubon society members, as discovery channel watchers, as armchair travelers, general wildlife enthusiasts. People curious about the natural world around them.

Kristen: And do you have any way to gauge who your consumers end up being, like if you're hitting your target audience or not with these books?

Todd: That's a hard question.

Kristen: Yeah, It's a difficult thing I think to have a sense of.

Todd: It's an absolutely difficult thing to measure, and I'm not entirely certain. I know that when I have a book come out I give all these presentations, and so I'm able to see my audience when they show up to my presentation.

Kristen: Right, it's really nice to have that physical feedback.

Todd: It absolutely is. Being in the presence of my readers is a big help to getting a sense for, am I doing it right? Should I have done something differently? Are they getting it? And so far it seems like I'm doing okay.

Kristen: Wow, that's awesome. Do you have specific techniques from your communication degrees that you still go back to and use? Do you have really important ones that stand out? I mean coming from a science education, I haven't had that formal training at all, so I'm just curious what sort of tools you rely on?

Todd: Well, I'll be honest with you; I didn't take many writing classes.

Kristen: Really?!

Todd: So, I got my writing education mostly by reading and paying attention to what a well-written story looks like. And writing. That's how I essentially learned to write is by reading good writing.

Kristen: Yeah, essentially immersing yourself in your field.

Todd: Exactly, exactly.

Kristen: If you were speaking to the fellow graduate students in our public engagement with science class, what pieces of advice would you offer for us who might be pursuing a career in science writing? I'm hearing it might be that a lot of it comes from experience, but based on your experience, what can you offer?

Todd: We're sort of in a reverse situation, whereas I'm the non-scientist interviewing the scientists, and you guys are all scientists yourselves. So, I suppose the key really is going to be that you need to bring the science down to a level the non-scientists can understand. In order to keep people engaged in science, who aren't scientists, you need to bring them little nuggets of science that they can digest.

Kristen: Right!

Todd: The other thing that, for me, is I wrap my science in my adventures. A key element is I go out there with the biologists and help them  with their research, and that means I have these first person adventures to be able to share. Those first person adventures are able to keep people engaged in the story long enough that I can share some hard science as well.

Kristen: Yeah, so frame things like a story, use analogies and just talk to your grandma.

Todd: Talk to your grandma, yes!

Kristen: I love it. Thanks so much. I really appreciate your time, Todd.

Todd: No problem at all, glad to help.

SeaOtter cover-page-001.jpg

Todd's newest book is now available!

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About the author:
Kristen J. DeMoranville is a Ph.D. student researching the effects of diet and long-distance flight on a migratory songbird in Scott McWilliams lab at the University of Rhode Island

K.DeMoranville.jpg
 

Don't go into the long grass!

Kristen holding a young Eastern box turtle  (Terrapene carolina carolina)  too small to carry a tracking transmitter. So unassuming about the challenges she will soon face...

Kristen holding a young Eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) too small to carry a tracking transmitter.
So unassuming about the challenges she will soon face...

It was an August morning on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, but instead of lounging on the beach with tourists I was gearing up to track down my Eastern box turtle friends. Eastern box turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina) are a beautifully patterned land dwelling turtle. Their populations continue to decline due to habitat loss, collection as pets, and road mortality, and they are globally listed as vulnerable to extinction. My task for the summer was to find turtles in their breeding habitat, glue a radio transmitter to their shells, and use that radio signal to track them to understand what habitat types are most important to protect. I followed turtles around all summer long, and it may surprise you that they do move extensively during their breeding season!

A gorgeously colored male Eastern box turtle. A bright red eye is one characteristic used to tell males from females. Duxbury, MA, summer,  Photo credit: Kristen DeMoranville

A gorgeously colored male Eastern box turtle. A bright red eye is one characteristic used to tell males from females. Duxbury, MA, summer, Photo credit: Kristen DeMoranville

Eastern box turtle carrying a tracking transmitter. Duxbury, MA, summer,  Photo credit: Kristen DeMoranville

Eastern box turtle carrying a tracking transmitter. Duxbury, MA, summer, Photo credit: Kristen DeMoranville

This August morning began like any other day in the field. It was time to track turtle 910, so I turned my dial to that frequency and headed towards its favorite place. This turtle, along with two others, frequented a spot that seemed to be a box turtle oasis. It was a small rocky depression lined and protected by large granite boulders and filled with green shrubs and young trees. It was located at the other side of a field roughly half the size of a soccer field. I stood at the edge of the field, pointed the antenna at the oasis, and picked up the turtle's signal! Great, just as I had expected. I strode confidently through the tall grass reaching up my torso with one thought, turtle 910. Whoa! Some...thing shot its head up through the grass just in front of me and snapped me out of my tunnel vision. I was so disoriented and startled that I couldn't recognize what this beady-eyed creature was. It charged directly at me, and that's when I realized I was being attacked by a wild turkey. "Forget turtle 910!", screamed my internal dialog. I ran as fast as I could in fear of that bill. I didn't look behind me until I was completely clear of the field, and to my delight the turkey had remained in the grass. To the turkey's delight I was no longer in the field heading straight for him. I learned first hand the valuable lesson that Jurassic Park (The Lost World) attempted to instill in me early on. In case some of you also missed it in 1997, I pass that message on to you: Don't go into the long grass (click here for video clip)! Yes, I now see turkeys as bloodthirsty velociraptors. Maybe not such a stretch since all birds are dinosaurs; birds today are reptilian descendants of an older group of dinosaurs, the therapods (I'm not too far off...velociraptors are therapods too!).

A gobbler in strut, or in other words a male turkey in breeding display. Note the dropped wings, vertical and fanned tail, puffed up body feathers, and tucked in neck position.  Photo credit: Mark Cooperman

A gobbler in strut, or in other words a male turkey in breeding display. Note the dropped wings, vertical and fanned tail, puffed up body feathers, and tucked in neck position. Photo credit: Mark Cooperman

 

What did you think? Please provide us with feedback by answering this short survey!

If you did enjoy reading the post then like & share using the icons at the bottom of the page!

Sources and further reading:

Eastern Box turtle information
Eastern box turtle facts
Global IUCN status

Jurassic Park video clip
Don't go into the long grass!

Birds are dinosaurs
birds are dinosaurs


About the author:
Kristen J. DeMoranville @Kris10DeMo is a Ph.D. student researching the effects of diet and long-distance flight on a migratory songbird in Dr. Scott McWilliams lab at the University of Rhode Island

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