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WATCH: Unique field study shows that pesticide harms wild bees

Photo: Maj Rundlöf

For the first time, a research project has investigated how a neonicotinoid pesticide, clothianidin, affects both honeybees and wild bees in an agricultural landscape. The study shows that honeybees can cope with exposure to the pesticide, but that it has a strong negative impact on wild bees.


Neonicotinoids are used for seed dressing of rapeseed, to protect the young plants against flea beetles. Since 2013, use of this type of pesticide has been restricted by the EU for crops that are attractive to bees.

The research findings have now been published in the scientific journal Nature, and they show that the insecticide has a negative impact on wild bees. This is a serious matter, because wild bees play an important role in pollination of crops. Wild bees include both bumblebees and solitary bees.

“We saw a clear negative impact on growth and ability to reproduce in bumblebee colonies near treated rapeseed fields”, said Maj Rundlöf from Lund University, the coordinator and principal investigator for the field study.

As well as problems with growth and reproduction, there were also fewer wild bees on the treated rapeseed fields. However, the researchers found no negative effect on colony growth of honeybees.

The study demonstrates the need for new ways to evaluate risks in conjunction with the approval of pesticides.

“If we only investigate how a new pesticide affects honeybees, that is not sufficient to predict the consequences for wild bees in a real landscape”, said Maj Rundlöf.

“The results show that it is inappropriate to use clothianidin on rapeseed”, said Thorsten Rahbek Pedersen, project manager at the Swedish Board of Agriculture. “We need alternative preparations and new cultivation methods if we are to continue growing spring rapeseed in Sweden.”

“We are testing new methods of dealing with flea beetles”, said Riccardo Bommarco from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

About the study:
The project has been carried out in collaboration with the Swedish Seed and Oil Plant Growers Association and beekeeping organisations, and was funded by the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, the Carl Trygger Foundation for Scientific Research, the Royal Physiographic Society, the Swedish Research Council and Formas.

Researchers from Lund University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, in collaboration with the Swedish Board of Agriculture, have studied the impact of the neonicotinoid clothianidin on domestic and wild bees in Sweden.


Maj Rundlöf, Lund University
Department of Biology, Lund University
maj [dot] rundlof [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se
+46 709 298524

Thorsten Rahbek Pedersen, Swedish Board of Agriculture, thorsten [dot] pedersen [at] jordbruksverket [dot] se, +46 706 943779

Riccardo Bommarco, Department of Ecology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU),, +46 730 485878