(NaturalNews) Researchers from Dundee University, Royal Holloway and University College London are set to carry out a £1.5 million ($2.3 million) study into whether continuous exposure to a cocktail of pesticides is interfering with the brains and nervous systems of bees and other pollinators, possibly explaining their recent drastic decline.
"The landscape has changed considerably over the last 30-40 years; we've seen well-documented changes in our birds, our flora and also in some of our insects," said Andrew Watkinson of the Insect Pollinators Initiative (IPI), "but now there's a growing concern that our insect pollinators are also in decline, whether that's in terms of the number of honeybees, number of bumblebee species, butterflies and hoverflies."
The researchers have hypothesized that pesticides, many of which are neurotoxins, might be blocking the electrical signals of insect nervous systems. This could produce effects such as making it harder for bees to communicate with each other, preventing them from identifying food sources or making it hard for them to find their hive again at the end of a foraging trip.
It would take only subtle neurological changes to produce severe brain disorders, the researchers have warned.
The IPI is a £10 million program that has enlisted ecologists, computer scientists, molecular biologists and mathematicians to research the causes of pollinator decline. It is funded by the Scottish government, the U.K. department of the environment, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Wellcome Trust.
Insect pollinators are essential for the cultivation and quality of a third of the world's food crops.
"We can take for granted the variety of vegetables, fruits and flowers that we can enjoy every day, but some of the insect pollinators on which they rely are in serious decline," said Alan Thorpe of the NERC. "Understanding the complexities of environmental ecosystems is a priority that will help to ensure the survival of pollinators and the benefits they provide."