New Article by COLOSS members on Neonicotinoids in Bees

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Neonicotinoids in bees: a review on concentrations, side-effects and risk assessment


Tjeerd Blacquie`re • Guy Smagghe •
Cornelis A. M. van Gestel • Veerle Mommaerts

Accepted: 28 January 2012
Ó The Author(s) 2012. This article is published with open access at 


Abstract Neonicotinoid insecticides are successfully applied to control pests in a variety of agricultural crops; however, they may not only affect pest insects but also non-target organisms such as pollinators. This review summarizes, for the first time, 15 years of research on the hazards of neonicotinoids to bees including honey bees, bumble bees and solitary bees. The focus of the paper is on three different key aspects determining the risks of neoni- cotinoid field concentrations for bee populations: (1) the environmental neonicotinoid residue levels in plants, bees and bee products in relation to pesticide application, (2) the reported side-effects with special attention for suble- thal effects, and (3) the usefulness for the evaluation of neonicotinoids of an already existing risk assessment scheme for systemic compounds. Although environmental residue levels of neonicotinoids were found to be lower than acute/chronic toxicity levels, there is still a lack of reliable data as most analyses were conducted near the detection limit and for only few crops. Many laboratory studies described lethal and sublethal effects of neonicoti- noids on the foraging behavior, and learning and memory abilities of bees, while no effects were observed in field studies at field-realistic dosages. The proposed risk assessment scheme for systemic compounds was shown to be applicable to assess the risk for side-effects of neoni- cotinoids as it considers the effect on different life stages and different levels of biological organization (organism versus colony). Future research studies should be con- ducted with field-realistic concentrations, relevant expo- sure and evaluation durations. Molecular markers may be used to improve risk assessment by a better understanding of the mode of action (interaction with receptors) of ne- onicotinoids in bees leading to the identification of envi- ronmentally safer compounds.

T. Blacquie`re (&)
Plant Research International, Wageningen University & Research, PO Box 69, 6700 AB Wageningen, The Netherlands e-mail:

G. Smagghe 􏰀 V. Mommaerts (&)
Department of Crop Protection, Faculty of Bioscience Engineering, Ghent University, Coupure Links 653, 9000 Ghent, Belgium

C. A. M. van Gestel
Department of Animal Ecology, Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, VU University, De Boelelaan 1085, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands


Keywords Honey bee 􏰀 Bumble bee 􏰀 Solitary bee 􏰀 Lethal toxicity 􏰀 Sublethal effects 􏰀 Reproduction 􏰀 Behavioral effect 􏰀 Risk assessment 􏰀 Neonicotinoids 􏰀 Residues