Date Published: April 25, 2019
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Author(s): Robert G. Chambers, Konstantinos Chatzimichael, Vangelis Tzouvelekas, Paul Cross.
The threats posed by neonicotinoid insecticides to bee populations have been the focus of considerable research. Previous work has shed new light on the effects of neonicotinoids on bees by uncovering pathways through which neonicotinoids affect bee population dynamics and the potential interactions they have with exogenous stressors. Yet, little is known about whether these effects translate in a field-relevant setting to substantial losses in honey yields for commercial beekeepers. Here, we used data from a 6-year survey of 60 apiaries in Greece and economic modelling to assess at the field level the effects of neonicotinoid insecticides on honey production. Based on production function estimates, we found that sub-lethal concentrations of two widely used neonicotinoid insecticides (imidacloprid and thiamethoxam) detected in the nectar of flowers resulted in substantial losses in honey production for commercial beekeepers in our sample. By simulating a scenario with ideal pathogenic and environmental conditions, we found that the magnitude of the neonicotinoid effects decreases significantly under ideal conditions providing evidence for possible synergies at the field between neonicotinoids and environmental and pathogenic factors. Moreover, in a replicated study with grouped apiaries, we found evidence that the marginal effects of neonicotinoids on honey production vary across apiaries facing different conditions.
Apiculture is a vital part of the agricultural economy in many developed and developing countries . According to the FAO, the total number of managed honeybee colonies worldwide was 90.4 million in 2016. Those colonies yielded approximately 1.8 million tonnes of honey production with a gross value of approximately 6.4 billion US dollars . Thus, any threats to apicultural production could have serious consequences for agricultural economy and the livelihoods of thousands of professional and semi-professional beekeepers worldwide [1, 3].
Our results indicated an average loss of 18.37 ± 8.5% in managed honeybee populations due to neonicotinoid effects (Table 1, upper panel) which is in line with previous findings [3, 7]. That corresponds to annual losses of 1.02 ± 0.6 million honeybees for an average-sized apiary in our sample (average apiary: 133 hives, 5.32 million honeybees). Our results indicated average losses in honey production of 6.78 ± 4.7% which translates into losses of 448.5 ± 31.6 kg of honey per season for an average-sized apiary (Table 1, middle panel). For the whole six year period, honey losses were estimated at 161.5 tonnes for the 60 apiaries analyzed.
In this paper, we used data from a 6-year survey of 60 apiaries in Greece and economic modelling to assess the effects of neonicotinoid insecticides on honey production. Our results indicated that sub-lethal concentrations of imidacloprid and thiamethoxam detected in the nectar of flowers resulted in substantial losses in honey production levels for beekeepers in our sample. This finding is important because it improves our understanding of the economic welfare losses associated with neonicotinoid exposure. Our results provided also evidence for possible synergies at the field between neonicotinoids and environmental and pathogenic conditions prevailing at the apiaries. These synergetic effects were found to account for significant losses in the honey yields of beekeepers. However, these results reflect only a higher bound estimate of the interactive effects of neonicotinoids. Finally, our results indicated decreasing marginal effects of neonicotinoids on honey production for beekeepers in our sample facing the least adverse conditions and increasing marginal effects for beekeepers facing the most adverse conditions. This result indicates that potential increases in neonicotinoid levels are likely to lead to higher losses in honey production under adverse conditions, especially if neonicotinoids are present at high concentrations.