Dr. Gus Lorenz, entomologist with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, began studying honey bees five years ago.
In 2012, the impact of neonicotinoids on these pollinators received national news after the widely used insecticide was implicated as contributing to colony collapse disorder. Along with farmers and researchers alike, Dr. Lorenz became very concerned. Neonicotinoids are an important class of insecticide in Arkansas because they effectively address sap-feeding insects like aphids.
Chemically related to nicotine, neonicotinoids act on specific receptors in the insect’s nerve synapse. Because it is much more toxic in these types of invertebrates than in mammals and birds, it is used in almost every major row crop.
Through their research, funded by the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board, Dr. Lorenz and his team measured how impactful the loss of honeybees would be to soybean producers.
When Dr. Lorenz first reported his findings after two years, they found virtually zero traces of neonicotinoids in the honeybees, their hives or soybean flowers. However, he and his team decided to look at the insecticide from a holistic level and began raising their own bees.
They managed their hives and recorded the bees’ behavior after foraging, fertilization, pollination and other aspects of their life cycle. What they discovered was by the time the plants started blooming, the neonicotinoid treatment had played out and the bees were not ingesting it or transferring it to other plants.
After nearly six years of research, Dr. Lorenz and his team feel comfortable with their data and in telling growers and beekeepers there’s virtually no impact on honeybees at all following neonicotinoid treatments.
But like the worker bees of the hive, Dr. Lorenz and his team are still looking for answers.