Honeybees as active samplers for microplastics

Sci Total Environ. 2021 May 1;767:144481. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.144481. Epub 2021 Jan 5.

Abstract

Microplastics are ubiquitous and their sampling is a difficult task. Honeybees interact with the environment inside their foraging range and take pollutants with them. In this work, we demonstrated for the first time that worker bees can act as active samplers of microplastics. We collected honeybees from apiaries located in the centre of Copenhagen and from nearby semiurban and rural areas. We showed the presence of microplastics in all sampled locations mostly in the form of fragments (52%) and fibres (38%) with average equivalent diameter of 64 ± 39 μm for fibres and 234 ± 156 μm for fragments. The highest load corresponded to urban apiaries, but comparable number of microplastics was found in hives from suburban and rural areas, which can be explained by the presence of urban settlements inside the foraging range of worker bees and to the easy dispersion of small microplastics by wind. Micro-FTIR analysis confirmed the presence of thirteen synthetic polymers, the most frequently of which was polyester followed by polyethylene and polyvinyl chloride. Our results demonstrated the presence of microplastics attached to the body of the honeybees and opens a new research pathway to their use as active biosamplers for anthropogenic pollution.

Keywords: Biosampling; Environmental monitoring; Honeybees; Microplastics.