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Study shows pesticide exposure can dramatically impact bees’ social behaviors

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Study shows pesticide exposure can dramatically impact bees’ social behaviors
November 8, 2018, Harvard University

A bumblebee (Bombus impatiens) worker foraging outdoors, outfitted with a unique tracking tag (BEEtag). Credit: James Crall

For bees, being social is everything.

Whether it’s foraging for food, caring for the young, using their bodies to generate heat or to fan the nest, or building and repairing nests, a does just about everything as a single unit.

While recent studies have suggested exposure to pesticides could have impacts on foraging behavior, a new study, led by James Crall, has shown that those effects may be just the tip of the iceberg.

A post-doctoral fellow working in the lab of Benjamin de Bivort, the Thomas D. Cabot Associate Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Crall is the lead author of a study that shows exposure to neonicotinoid pesticides—the most commonly-used class of pesticides in agriculture—has profound effects on a host of social behaviors.

Using an innovative robotic platform to observe ‘ behavior, Crall and co-authors including de Bivort and Naomi Pierce, the Sidney A. and John H. Hessel Professor of Biology, showed that, following exposure to the pesticide, bees spent less time nursing larvae and were less social that other bees. Additional tests showed that exposure impaired bees ability to warm the nest, and to build insulating wax caps around the . The study is described in a November 9 paper in Science.

In addition to Crall, de Bivort and Pierce, the study was co-authored by Callin Switzer, Ph.D. ’18, Stacey Combes from UC Davis, former Organismic and Evolutionary Biology research assistants Robert L. Oppenheimer and Mackay Eyster and Harvard undergraduate Andrea Brown, ’19.

“These pesticides first came into use around the mid-1990s, and are now the most commonly-used class of insecticide around the globe,” Crall said. “Typically, they work through seed treatment—high concentrations are dosed on seeds, and one reasons farmers and pesticide companies like these compounds is because they are taken up systemically by the plants…so the idea is they provide whole-plant resistance. But the problem is they also show up in the pollen and nectar bees are feeding on.”

Over the past decade, Crall said, a number of studies have linked with disruptions in foraging, “but there were reasons to suspect that wasn’t the whole picture.”

“Foraging is only a part of what bumblebees do,” Crall said. “Those studies were picking up on the important effects these compounds were having on what’s going on outside the nest, but there’s a whole world of really important behaviors going on inside…and that’s a black box we wanted to open up a bit.”

Automated tracking of nest workers in a bumblebee (Bombus impatiens) colony. Credit: James Crall

To do it, Crall and colleagues developed a unique, benchtop system that allowed them to track the activity of bees in as many as a dozen colonies at a time.

“What we do is put a black and white tag with a simplified QR code, on the back of each bee,” he said. “And there’s a camera that can move over the colonies and track the behavior of each bee automatically using computer vision…so that allows us to look inside the nest.”

Using the system, Crall and colleagues were able to dose specific, individual bees with the pesticide and observe the changes in their behavior—less interaction with nest-mates and spending more time on the periphery of the colony—but those experiments are limited in several important ways.

“One is physiological,” Crall said. “Even though we were giving the bees realistic doses of pesticide, drinking your daily allotment of coffee in five minutes is going to be different than spreading it out over the course of the day, so giving one big dose might not be totally realistic. The other important one is that a bee colony is a functional unit. It doesn’t make sense to treat individuals, because what you’re losing when you do that is the natural social structure of the colony.”

With the robotic system, however, researchers can treat an entire colony as a single unit.

Each of the system’s 12 units, Crall said, houses a single colony where bees have access to two chambers—one to mimic the nest and the other to act as a foraging space.

“That lets us do multiple, colony-level exposure, and to do continuous monitoring,” Crall said. “We think this is much closer to how their natural behavior works, and it also allows us to automate behavioral tracking across multiple colonies at the same time.”

Just as in earlier studies, Crall said, exposed bees showed changes in activity levels and socialization, and spent more time on the fringes of the nest, but the tests also showed that the results were strongest overnight.

“Bees actually have a very strong circadian rhythm,” Crall explained. “So what we found was that, during the day, there was no statistically-observable effect, but at night, we could see that they were crashing. We don’t know yet whether (the pesticides) are disrupting circadian gene regulation or if this is just some, maybe physiological feedback…but it suggests that, just from a practical perspective, if we want to understand or study these compounds, looking at effects overnight matters a lot.”

Manual feeding of a bumblebee (Bombus impatiens) worker during acute exposure trials. Credit: James Crall

Additional experiments, in which temperature probes were placed inside outdoor hives, suggested pesticides have profound effects on bees’ ability to regulate temperatures inside the nest.

“When temperatures drop, bees lock their wings down and shiver their muscles to generate heat,” Crall said. “But what we found was that, in control colonies, even as the temperature fluctuated widely, they were able to keep the temperature in the colony steady to within a few degrees. But the exposed bees, they pretty dramatically lose the capacity to regulate temperature.”

In addition to disrupting bees’ ability to directly heat or cool the nest, the experiment also revealed that pesticide exposure impacted bees’ ability to build an insulating wax cap over the colony.

“Almost all of our control colonies built that cap,” Crall said. “And it seems to be totally wiped out in the pesticide-exposed colonies, so they lose this capacity to do this functional restructuring of the .”

Going forward, Crall said, there are some additional questions raised by the study that he hopes to address.

“This work—especially on thermoregulation—opens up a new set of questions, not just about what the direct effects of pesticides are, but how those pesticides impair the ability of colonies to cope with other stressors,” he said. “This work suggests that, in particularly extreme environments, we might expect the effects of pesticides to be worse, so it changes both how we go about practically testing agro-chemicals in general, but it points to specific questions about whether we might see stronger declines in certain environments.”

Taken together, Crall believes the findings point to the need for tighter regulation of neonicotinoids and other that may be impacting bees.

“I think we’re at a point where we should be very, very concerned about how the ways in which we’re changing the environment is undercutting and decimating insect populations that are important not only for the function of every ecosystem…but that are very important for food production,” he said. “Our food system is becoming more and more pollinator-dependent over time—today about a third of food crops are dependent on pollinators, and that’s only rising. Up until now, we’ve had this abundant, natural gift of pollinators doing all this work for us, and now we’re starting to realize that isn’t a given, so I think we should be very worried about that.”


Explore further:
Neonicotinoid pesticide affects foraging and social interaction in bumblebees

More information:
J.D. Crall el al., “Neonicotinoid exposure disrupts bumblebee nest behavior, social networks, and thermoregulation,” Science (2018). science.sciencemag.org/cgi/doi … 1126/science.aat1598

“Pesticide affects social behavior of bees,” Science (2018). science.sciencemag.org/cgi/doi … 1126/science.aav5273


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New research reveals that hummingbirds and bumble bees are being exposed to neonicotinoid and other pesticides through routes that are widespread and complex. The findings are published in Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry.

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Scientists acknowledge key errors in study of how fast the oceans are warming

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A major study claimed the oceans were warming much faster than previously thought. But researchers now say they can’t necessarily make that claim.



The sun sets over sea ice floating on the Victoria Strait along the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago during the summer of 2017. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Chris Mooney

Reporter covering climate change, energy and the environment.

Brady Dennis

Reporter focusing on environmental policy and public health issues

Scientists behind a major study that claimed the Earth’s oceans are warming faster than previously thought now say their work contained inadvertent errors that made their conclusions seem more certain than they actually are.

Two weeks after the high-profile study was published in the journal Nature, its authors have submitted corrections to the publication. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography, home to several of the researchers involved, also noted the problems in the scientists’ work and corrected a news release on its website, which previously had asserted that the study detailed how the Earth’s oceans “have absorbed 60 percent more heat than previously thought.”

“Unfortunately, we made mistakes here,” said Ralph Keeling, a climate scientist at Scripps, who was a co-author of the study. “I think the main lesson is that you work as fast as you can to fix mistakes when you find them.”

The central problem, according to Keeling, came in how the researchers dealt with the uncertainty in their measurements. As a result, the findings suffer from too much doubt to definitively support the paper’s conclusion about just how much heat the oceans have absorbed over time.

The central conclusion of the study — that oceans are retaining ever more energy as more heat is being trapped within Earth’s climate system each year — is in line with other studies that have drawn similar conclusions. And it hasn’t changed much despite the errors. But Keeling said the authors’ miscalculations mean there is actually a much larger margin of error in the findings, which means researchers can weigh in with less certainty than they thought.

“I accept responsibility for what happened because it’s my role to make sure that those kind of details got conveyed,” Keeling said.

The study’s lead author was Laure Resplandy of Princeton University. Other researchers were with institutions in China, Paris, Germany and the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research and Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory.

“Maintaining the accuracy of the scientific record is of primary importance to us as publishers and we recognize our responsibility to correct errors in papers that we have published,” Nature said in a statement to The Post. “Issues relating to this paper have been brought to Nature’s attention and we are looking into them carefully. We take all concerns related to papers we have published very seriously and will issue an update once further information is available.”

The original study, which appeared on Oct. 31, derived a new method for measuring how much heat is being absorbed by the oceans. Essentially, the authors measured the volume of gases, specifically oxygen and carbon dioxide, that have escaped the ocean in recent decades and headed into the atmosphere as it heats up. They found that the warming “is at the high end of previous estimates” and suggested that as a result, the rate of global warming itself could be more accelerated.

The results, wrote the authors, may suggest there is less time than previously thought to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The study drew considerable media attention, including from The Post.

However, not long after publication, an independent Britain-based researcher named Nicholas Lewis published a lengthy blog post saying he had found a “major problem” with the research.

“So far as I can see, their method vastly underestimates the uncertainty,” Lewis said in an interview Tuesday, “as well as biasing up significantly, nearly 30 percent, the central estimate.”

Lewis added that he tends “to read a large number of papers, and, having a mathematics as well as a physics background, I tend to look at them quite carefully, and see if they make sense. And where they don’t make sense — with this one, it’s fairly obvious it didn’t make sense — I look into them more deeply.”

Lewis has argued in past studies and commentaries that climate scientists are predicting too much warming because of their reliance on computer simulations, and that current data from the planet itself suggests global warming will be less severe than feared.

It isn’t clear whether the authors agree with all of Lewis’s criticisms, but Keeling said “we agree there were problems along the lines he identified.”

Paul Durack, a research scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, said promptly acknowledging the errors in the study “is the right approach in the interests of transparency.”

But he added in an email, “This study, although there are additional questions that are arising now, confirms the long known result that the oceans have been warming over the observed record, and the rate of warming has been increasing,” he said.

Gavin Schmidt, head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, followed the growing debate over the study closely on Twitter and said that measurements about the uptake of heat in the oceans have been bedeviled with data problems for some time — and that debuting new research in this area is hard.

“Obviously you rely on your co-authors and the reviewers to catch most problems, but things still sometimes slip through,” Schmidt wrote in an email.

Schmidt and Keeling agreed that other studies also support a higher level of ocean heat content than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, saw in a landmark 2013 report.

Overall, Schmidt said, the episode can be seen as a positive one.

“The key is not whether mistakes are made, but how they are dealt with — and the response from Laure and Ralph here is exemplary. No panic, but a careful reexamination of their working — despite a somewhat hostile environment,” he wrote.

“So, plus one for some post-publication review, and plus one to the authors for reexamining the whole calculation in a constructive way. We will all end up wiser.”

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Science

Russia unveils NUCLEAR spaceship poised for groundbreaking INTERSTELLAR missions

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Russia unveils NUCLEAR spaceship poised for groundbreaking INTERSTELLAR missions


RUSSIA’s Space Agency, Roscosmos, has unveiled a nuclear powered spaceship designed for groundbreaking interplanetary and interstellar flights.

space news, space, NASA, mars mission, interstellar, roscosmos, russia space, space, spaceship, spacecraft

Russia’s Space Agency, Roscosmos, has unveiled a nuclear powered spaceship (Image: Roscosmos/Getty)

When discussing the possibility of interstellar travel, some scientists tend to scoff at the idea because of the enormous distances that separate the stars. However, Roscosmos claims the craft will be able to make flights into deep space, thanks to the use of nuclear power. Video released on the Roscomos page on Facebook shows the concept design of the craft.

From past descriptions, the concept design includes a gas-cooled fission reaction that powers a generator, which in turn feeds a plasma thruster.

Vladimir Koshlakov, who heads Moscow’s Keldysh Research Centre told local media a mission to Mars will be able “in the very near future but that is not the aim in itself”.

He noted: “Our engines can be the foundation for a whole range of space missions that currently seem like science fiction.”

The Keldysh Research Centre, responsible for developing the Katyusha rocket launched during World War 2, has been working on the “unique” propulsion system since 2009.

space news, space, NASA, mars mission, interstellar, roscosmos, russia space, space, spaceship, spacecraft

Video released on the Roscomos page on Facebook shows the concept design of the craft (Image: Roscosmos)

Mr Koshlakov did not name a date for when the system will be ready but he suggested it “will surpass existing level of technological and scientific development”.

He added: “Reusability is the priority.

“We must develop engines that do not need to be fine-tuned or repaired more than once every ten flights.

“Also, 48 hours after the rocket returns from space, it must be ready to go again.

space news, space, NASA, mars mission, interstellar, roscosmos, russia space, space, spaceship, spacecraft

Vladimir Koshlakov a mission to Mars will be able “in the very near future but that is not the aim (Image: Getty)

“This is what the market demands.”

Asked whether he might be surpassed by other companies, such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which is planning its own mission to Mars, Mr Koshlakov firmly denied.

He said: “Elon Musk is using the existing tech, developed a long time ago.

“He is a businessman: he took a solution that was already there, and applied it successfully.

“Notably, he is also doing his work with help from the government.”

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Menu for astronauts in space includes variety, comforts of home

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Menu for astronauts in space includes variety, comforts of home

In this Dec. 21, 2015 photo, Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly participates in a spacewalk outside the International Space Station. NASA scientists are always working to come up with better meals for astronauts living in space, where the body starts to lose bone and muscle mass. (NASA via AP file)

8035293

Neil Armstrong may have taken that first small step for man onto the moon, but it was John Glenn who took the first slurp of applesauce for humankind.

Until he ate while orbiting Earth in 1962, scientists at NASA weren’t sure humans could swallow and digest food while in space. Luckily, he chowed down in zero gravity with no trouble. Today’s astronauts sometimes spend months at a time living in the International Space Station, so they’d get pretty hungry without a few snacks!

Of course, while the human body is happy to take in a meal while hovering 250 miles above Earth, the process of cooking and eating food isn’t exactly the same as it is back home. That’s why NASA scientists are working hard to perfect astronaut menus. A healthy diet is even more crucial for space travelers than it is here on the surface, because spending time in space makes your body start to lose bone and muscle mass. NASA has to figure out how to send food up in a rocket, store it for as long as possible and make sure it delivers a perfect balance of nutrients — and it has to keep astronauts from getting bored, too!

“Imagine trying to eat the same food for every meal for six months. You may get tired of the food and eat less than you need to maintain weight, health and performance. That’s why we have to make sure there’s a large variety of healthy food available for the astronauts to make choices,” says F. Ryan Dowdy, ISS food system manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Astronauts have about 200 food items to pick from. According to Dowdy, a lot of the options are surprisingly similar to meals we eat on Earth.

“Whether it’s macaroni and cheese or chocolate pudding cake, it’s important for the astronauts when eating to be reminded of home,” he says. “Food can be an important psychological comfort in the stressful environment of space.”

It’s the preparation that’s unique: Food often has to sit in storage for six months before it even goes into space — and last for weeks or months at a time once it’s up there — so NASA designs everything with a shelf life of at least two years. Macaroni and cheese is freeze-dried (meaning that most of the moisture is removed, which makes it safe to store at room temperature), and astronauts add hot water to it on the space station. Chocolate pudding cake is preserved similarly to canned food, but NASA puts it in a flexible pouch so it takes up less space.

Some Earth foods are perfectly fit for zero-gravity consumption. Tortillas, for example, are a great alternative to bread — they last a long time in storage, and they don’t form crumbs that float around and get caught in important parts of the ship. Astronauts can request small quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables whenever NASA sends supplies up, but for the most part, they’re eating various combinations of super-durable stored foods.

As NASA looks to the future of spaceflight — with missions to Mars, and perhaps even farther — the agency has to design even more durable food. It takes about eight months to get to Mars, and astronauts will have to bring food for the journey home, too. Dowdy says NASA is working to extend the shelf life of its foods to around five years, but experiments in space farming are also part of the plan.

Astronauts on the ISS are able to farm plants such as lettuce in small quantities, but Dowdy says it will take some time before this is a sustainable source of calories.

He thinks 3D printed treats may also be on the menu someday soon. One thing is for sure: It’s going to take a lot of scientific know-how to feed the space explorers of the future.

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