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The Bombus
affinis, commonly known as the rusty-patched bumble bee, has been on a
population decline in Canada over recent decades. Just like half of the 21 of
bee species in Eastern Canada, these specific species of bees have been faced
with the same ill-fated ordeal, according to PhD student Sheila Colla of York
University. The Bombus affinis became the first official endangered bee
species in North America. It is important to note that bees have an integral
ecological role in Canada’s ecosystem. Bees play a vital part in the production
of fruit and seeds that feed other wildlife (e.g. bears and birds), as well as
pollinate crops that contribute to one-third of Canada’s food supply. Colla and
her team searched across various parts of Canada for this specific bee species,
however, very few bees were found, indicating the dramatic decline of its bee
population Canada.  The exact cause of
this decline is unknown/ speculated, however, many potential factors can be
attributed to this decline, including: climate change, pesticides, habitat loss
and pathogens. Pathogens were likely spread in commercial greenhouse operations
that use the bees to pollinate various vegetables. Moreover, powerful
pesticides, known as neonicotinoids, which are used in the crop industry to
eradicate bugs and fleas are highly linked to the decline. Lastly, climate
change has been a plausible suspect, since this bee species has been prone to
extreme weather (e.g. storms). And so, the bee population is facing multiple menaces
to its survival, which could potentially alter the food chains and ecosystems
over time (Munro 2012).

Question:
The article suggests that the potent pesticides, known as neonicotinoids, are a
factor contributing to the decline of the bee population in Canada. What are
the biological effects of neonicotinoids on the bees?

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Neonicotinoids
pesticides have been strongly considered a contributory factor to the decline
of bees, partly because of its physiological and biological effect on the
typical bee. Thiamethoxam, a common neonicotinoid pesticide, can interfere with
bee navigation and flight ability. Chronic exposure to thiamethoxam, impaired
the physical ability of bees to properly fly. In one experiment, where bees
were chronically exposed to this pesticide over 1-2 days, a significant
decrease in flight duration, distance and average velocity was observed
compared to bees receiving a weaker exposure. The results demonstrated a link
between neonicotinoids and bee flight ability, suggesting that exposure to this
pesticide in crop fields can have a detrimental effect on bee flight, which is
an essential skill for these vital ecological players (Tosi et al.).
More than that, exposure to these chemicals could hamper the bees’ foraging
efficiency and behaviors. Bees engage in a learned behavior called buzz
pollination (sonication), where they release pollen held by their anthers to
flowers, by generating high-frequency vibrations. In another study, bees were
exposed to high amounts of thiamethoxam and their ability to develop buzz
sonication and collect pollen was significantly reduced (Whitehorn et al.).
This study demonstrated the impact of neonicotinoid pesticides on the complex
behaviors of bees, and solidified the notion that these chemicals have an
impairing and compromising effect on the bees.

The
article does not specifically refer to the biological effects of neonicotinoid
pesticides on bees, Bombus spp., and briefly suggests other drivers of
the bee population decline. Recent primary literature indicates that neonicotinoids,
specifically thiamethoxam, have a significant detrimental effect on the bees’
flight ability and behavior. These harmful chemicals impair some of the bees’
most essential skills, including buzz sonication (Whitehorn et al.) and
flight (Tosi et al.), which is needed to fulfill their ecological role
as pollinators. And so, although bees face multiple threats to its existence,
it is suggested that the widespread use of neonicotinoids poses as the major
biological threat to bee survival.

As bees
are facing an increasing amount of risks to their survival, including climate
change, pesticides, habitat loss and pathogens, the widespread use of the
pesticide neonicotinoids seems to be the most detrimental. The impairment of
bees’ flight ability and the decreased use of buzz sonication are some of the
biological effects indicated by recent primary literature. Though, relative to
other drivers of the decline, the global use of pesticides in crop fields
significantly prevents bees from fulfilling their ecological roles as
pollinators.

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