Landscape Scale Study of the Net Effect of Proximity to a Neonicotinoid-Treated Crop on Bee Colony Health

Environ Sci Technol. 2017 Sep 19;51(18):10825-10833. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.7b02236. Epub 2017 Sep 8.


Since 2013, the European Commission has restricted the use of three neonicotinoid insecticides as seed dressings on bee-attractive crops. Such crops represent an important source of forage for bees, which is often scarce in agro-ecosystems. However, this benefit has often been overlooked in the design of previous field studies, leaving the net impact of neonicotinoid treated crops on bees relatively unknown. Here, we determine the combined benefit (forage) and cost (insecticide) of oilseed rape grown from thiamethoxam-treated seeds on Bombus terrestris and Apis mellifera colonies. In April 2014, 36 colonies per species were located adjacent to three large oilseed rape fields (12 colonies per field). Another 36 were in three nearby locations in the same agro-ecosystem, but several kilometers distant from any oilseed rape fields. We found that Bombus colony growth and reproduction were unaffected by location (distant versus adjacent) following the two month flowering period. Apis colony and queen survival were unaffected. However, there was a small, but significant, negative relationship between honey and pollen neonicotinoid contamination and Apis colony weight gain. We hypothesize that any sublethal effects of neonicotinoid seed dressings on Bombus colonies are potentially offset by the additional foraging resources provided. A better understanding of the ecological and agronomic factors underlying neonicotinoid residues is needed to inform evidence-based policy.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees*
  • Brassica napus
  • Crops, Agricultural
  • Guanidines
  • Insecticides*
  • Neonicotinoids*
  • Pollen
  • Population Dynamics
  • Reproduction


  • Guanidines
  • Insecticides
  • Neonicotinoids