by Elizabeth Seward – Staff Writer
Pesticides are meant to be toxic to insects, but their potency has the potential to wreak large-scale havoc on our ecosystems. One of the most talked about ill effects of pesticide use over the last decade has been the quickly diminishing bee populations. Pesticides are believed to be a leading cause behind colony collapse disorder (CCD), which occurs when adult bees are suddenly lost from a hive.
The decline in bees has been a hot topic for a reason – we rely on bees for pollination, among other things. A type of crop pesticide called neonicotinoids has been associated with the decline in bees and it is now being associated with a decline in bird populations, as well.
A new study out of the Netherlands’ Radboud University has taken a close look at how neonicotinoids might be affecting the bird populations throughout the country. Over the course of seven years (2003 – 2010), the concentrations of neonicotinoids in lakes and other types of surface waters was measured. These numbers were compared to the changes documented in 15 different types of bird species. The researchers found that in areas where the concentrations of neonicotinoids were the highest in the waters examined, the populations of nearby farmland birds decreased.
Neonicotinoids are among the most commonly used pesticides in the world. The pesticides are less toxic to birds and mammals than insects, but as this recent research suggests, their affect on birds is severe nonetheless, particularly in direct relation to the loss of area insects. There are several types of neonicotinoids, including: imidacloprid, acetamiprid, clothianidin, nitenpyram, nithiazine, thiacloprid, and thiamethoxam. These types of pesticides were first used in the 1980s and then more widely used during the 1990s and thereafter. Neonicotinoids are widely used in the USA as well as the Netherlands. Additionally, they are registered for use in 120 countries worldwide. Among other types of crops, soybeans are typically treated with neonicotinoids.
The presence of neonicotinoids was established in the corpses of dead bees located near hives experiencing CCD and/or near agricultural fields and commercial crops. Bees found at these hives that were still alive were found to exhibit uncoordinated movement, tremors, and convulsions. These are all signs of toxicity from pesticides.
A recent survey conducted by Friends of the Earth found that even hobbyist gardeners might be contributing to the problems caused by pesticides within our ecosystems. The survey found that products sold at common garden centers, like Home Depot, Walmart, and Lowes contained neonicotinoids. More than half of the plants sampled for the survey contained these pesticides. While Lowes and Walmart did not release a statement in regard to the recent findings, Home Depot expressed that they will now require their suppliers of live goods to label the plants that have been treated with neonicotinoids.
This all might leave you wondering how you can positively impact the dwindling bee and bird populations and discourage the use of these pesticides in or beyond your community. If you’d like to do your part in fighting this problem, consider taking action in one of the following ways:
1. Do not support farms that use these toxic chemicals. Do your research and find out which farms near and far are using neonicotinoids and choose to spend your money (and support) elsewhere.
2. Petition for the ban of these pesticides use in your local area as well as afar.
3. Talk to your local city council about how area birds and bees are being negatively affected by the use of the pesticides.
4. If you purchase live plants for your own garden, try to trace the plant back to its original grower and/or supplier so that you can ensure you are buying a plant that does not already contain neoinicotinoids.
5. Discuss! The power of communication and by-mouth knowledge is unbeatable. Talk to your family members, friends, neighbors, and community members about the ways in which neonicotinoids are impacting your local ecosystem and brainstorm ways to make a change.
6. Take an especially close look at the farms that grow soy and corn. These two crops are among those most commonly sprayed with these pesticides. Make an attempt to purchase these crops from organic, non-GMO farmers exclusively if you are able.