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Apr 24, 2012

Honey Bee Survival Behavior Disrupted By Selenium

UCR scientists John Trumble and
Kristen Hladun study the impact of selenium,
a plant-accumulated pollutant on honey bees

Photo: UCR Strategic Communications 
Entomologists at the University of California Riverside (UCR) have published an article in PLoS ONE concluding that selenium has a significant impact on the foraging and survival behavior of bees.  Selenium is a non-metal chemical element that is found in the soil.  It is increasingly found in concentration in regions that have been highly irrigated such as California's San Joaquin Valley.

The UCR scientists conducted laboratory experiments exposing bees to varying levels of selenium.  At very low levels, the mineral is necessary for normal development of insects.  At higher levels, it became toxic.  According to lead researcher John T. Trumble, a professor of entomology, "nature has not equipped bees to avoid selenium."  They found that bees exposed to high levels of selenium were less responsive and unable to communicate as well with their fellows (an instinct crucial to foraging and survival).  Bees fed selenium died at a significantly younger age.

The UCR scientists conclude there is need for more research on this topic.  They would like to conduct experiments in the field as opposed to the laboratory.  This would allow them to further analyze interactions between bee co-workers and the impact of selenium on bee larvae. Without this they can not specify whether selenium has any relationship to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). To support this next level of research, the team recently received a three-year US$480,000 grant from USDA-NIFA.

For more see:

Pittalwala, Igbal. “Selenium impacts honey bee behavior and survival,” University of California Riverside, UCR News Today, 24 April 2012.

Kristen R. Hladun, Brian H. Smith, Julie A. Mustard, Ray R. Morton, John T. Trumble. Selenium Toxicity to Honey Bee (Apis mellifera L.) Pollinators: Effects on Behaviors and Survival. PLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (4): e34137 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0034137

About Margaret

CEO and Curator (The Food Museum) | Managing Director and Chief Editor (GR2 Global LLC) | Educator (UCLA PhD) | Researching and writing on global food issues, nutrition and health, sustainability, history (preservation), conservation (natural resources), and design.
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