Evaluating exposure and potential effects on honeybee brood (Apis mellifera) development using glyphosate as an example

Integr Environ Assess Manag. 2014 Jul;10(3):463-70. doi: 10.1002/ieam.1529. Epub 2014 May 19.


This study aimed to develop an approach to evaluate potential effects of plant protection products on honeybee brood with colonies at realistic worst-case exposure rates. The approach comprised 2 stages. In the first stage, honeybee colonies were exposed to a commercial formulation of glyphosate applied to flowering Phacelia tanacetifolia with glyphosate residues quantified in relevant matrices (pollen and nectar) collected by foraging bees on days 1, 2, 3, 4, and 7 postapplication and glyphosate levels in larvae were measured on days 4 and 7. Glyphosate levels in pollen were approximately 10 times higher than in nectar and glyphosate demonstrated rapid decline in both matrices. Residue data along with foraging rates and food requirements of the colony were then used to set dose rates in the effects study. In the second stage, the toxicity of technical glyphosate to developing honeybee larvae and pupae, and residues in larvae, were then determined by feeding treated sucrose directly to honeybee colonies at dose rates that reflect worst-case exposure scenarios. There were no significant effects from glyphosate observed in brood survival, development, and mean pupal weight. Additionally, there were no biologically significant levels of adult mortality observed in any glyphosate treatment group. Significant effects were observed only in the fenoxycarb toxic reference group and included increased brood mortality and a decline in the numbers of bees and brood. Mean glyphosate residues in larvae were comparable at 4 days after spray application in the exposure study and also following dosing at a level calculated from the mean measured levels in pollen and nectar, showing the applicability and robustness of the approach for dose setting with honeybee brood studies. This study has developed a versatile and predictive approach for use in higher tier honeybee toxicity studies. It can be used to realistically quantify exposure of colonies to pesticides to allow the appropriate dose rates to be determined, based on realistic worst-case residues in pollen and nectar and estimated intake by the colony, as shown by the residue analysis. Previous studies have used the standard methodology developed primarily to identify pesticides with insect-growth disrupting properties of pesticide formulations, which are less reliant on identifying realistic exposure scenarios. However, this adaptation of the method can be used to determine dose-response effects of colony level exposure to pesticides with a wide range of properties. This approach would limit the number of replicated tunnel or field-scale studies that need to be undertaken to assess effects on honeybee brood and may be of particular benefit where residues in pollen and nectar are crop- and/or formulation-specific, such as systemic seed treatments and granular applications.

Keywords: Brood; Glyphosate; Honeybee; Pesticides; Toxicity testing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / drug effects*
  • Bees / growth & development
  • Bees / metabolism
  • Glycine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Glycine / analysis
  • Glycine / toxicity
  • Herbicides / analysis
  • Herbicides / toxicity*
  • Hydrophyllaceae
  • Larva / drug effects
  • Larva / growth & development
  • Larva / metabolism
  • Plant Nectar / chemistry
  • Pollen / chemistry
  • Risk Assessment / methods
  • Toxicity Tests / methods


  • Herbicides
  • Plant Nectar
  • glyphosate
  • Glycine