A new study shows that Israeli bees are being exposed to dangerous pesticides originating from agricultural areas adjacent to their hives, some of which are highly toxic and can affect the bees’ behavior.
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According to the study, 24 different pesticides were found in the bodies of local honey bees as well as in the honey and pollen in the hives.
The team of researchers was led by Dr. Shlomo Sarig of the Katif Center for Desert Research in the Negev and included researchers from the Agriculture Ministry and the Agricultural Research Administration in Beit Dagan. The findings were presented last week at a conference of research centers that get funding from the Science and Technology Ministry.
The researchers monitored beehives placed at three sites for a year. Five beehives were placed in the area of Tzrifin, where there are mainly orchards, while five more hives were placed in the Lachish region, where there is extensive grapevine cultivation. The remaining five hives were placed in the Gilat area in the northern Negev, where there are various orchards and field crops.
Dust receptors were installed at the three sites, followed by tests to search for pesticides in the bees themselves, as well as in the honey and pollen in the hive. Dust samples collected at the three sites were also examined for pesticides.
At the beginning of the study, when the hives were new, no pesticides were found in any of the tests. But after a year, 24 pesticides – both insecticides and fungicides – were found. The presence of the materials in the hive itself, in the bodies of the bees and in the pollen, indicates that they came from the surrounding agricultural areas, through the bees’ direct contact with the chemicals while they searched for food in the fields and orchards, as well as from pesticide residue in the air.
In at least one case, a high concentration of pesticides apparently killed off the bees immediately. This happened at the Gilat site, where the bees were exposed to a particularly high concentration of a substance from the Neonicotinoid group, now considered to be particularly toxic to bees. The European Union recently decided to ban the use of these types of pesticides for the next two years.
In most of the other tests, only small concentrations of pesticides were discovered. However, studies around the world have shown that chronic exposure to concentrations of some substances can cause physiological damage to bees and disrupt the functioning of their hives.
“This is the first study of its kind in Israel that examines the exposure of bees to a variety of substances,” said Sarig, “It proves that the harmful substances are found in the hives and bees. They are found in small quantities, but their effect is cumulative; small amounts of each substance come together to cause significant damage to the bee population and real damage to agriculture.”