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Salvation for the bees?

Bees and plant biodiversity need each other. Neonicotinoids and other insecticides disrupt this fragile ecosystem. © Monika Gstöhl

The European Commission is discussing the use of neonicotinoids. The damage caused by these insecticides also strongly affects bees.

In 2013 the European Commission decreed restrictions on the use of powerful neonicotinoids to control pests in agriculture. Now a total ban on their use outdoors is being discussed. Pharmaceutical companies, such as Bayer CropScience and Syngenta, have appealed to the European Court of Justice. For the corporations involved this may mean losses running into billions. For the EU, however, it is a matter of the future of the environment and the conservation of biodiversity.

Neonicotinoids are among the world’s most widely used insecticides. They protect plants by poisoning biting and sucking insects. Their impact on honey and wild bees is however particularly disturbing, ranging from a slight weakening to death of these pollinating insects. This is shown in a study by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA), for example.

If bees – or even whole species of bees – die out, this would have serious effects on biodiversity. Jean-Daniel Charrière, director of the Swiss Centre for Bee Research, explains: “The diversity of our plant life depends on the diversity of the pollinators”. Honey bees, wild bees and other pollinators all complement one another. “A reduction in the biodiversity of pollinators can also reduce the long-term biodiversity of plants”, says Charrière.

Unlike in the lowlands, honey and wild bees in mountainous areas are not so noticeably affected by the use of neonicotinoids, as these regions are less accessible and less intensively farmed. Clear studies of the situation in the Alps are lacking, but it is believed that other developments are threatening bees there. One major possible problem is the dwindling number of food sources and nesting possibilities owing to the controlling and channelling of waters.


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