Farm Pesticides May Cut Bees’ Learning Ability, U.K. Study Shows

Some pesticides used in agriculture may damage learning capacity in the brains of honeybees, according to U.K. research.

Neonicotinoid and coumaphos pesticides in a laboratory were found to target areas of bees’ brains involved in learning, with some insects forgetting associations between flower scents and food rewards, according to a University of Dundee study published in Nature Communications today. A similar study by researchers at Newcastle University showed that as many as 30 percent of bees failed to learn or performed poorly on memory tests after exposure to those pesticides for four days.

“These studies highlight potential dangers to pollinators of continued exposure to pesticides that target the insect nervous system and the importance of identifying combinations of pesticides that could profoundly impact pollinator survival,” Christopher Connolly, who led the University of Dundee study, said in a statement distributed by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

A European Union committee failed to reach an agreement on March 15 on a two-year ban previously proposed by regulators that would have limited some uses of neonicotinoid insecticides produced by Bayer AG and Syngenta AG because of risks to honey-bee health.