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Are insecticides giving honeybees dementia? Studies show aluminum alters cognitive behavior in pollinators


(NaturalNews) Longtime readers of Natural News are already aware that global honeybee populations are on the decline – so much so, that now researchers are quickly trying to develop "robo-bees" to replace them.

The problem is, no one really knows if bot bees can mimic the pollination techniques of the real bees responsible for pollinating one-third of the world's food supply.

One of the primary dangers to bee populations, scientists have noted, is insecticides – the kind that are widely used in agriculture. In fact, as reported a year ago by the UK's Daily Mail, some researchers believe that an insect form of Alzheimer's disease is being caused by aluminum contamination, and could be a large part of why bee populations are dwindling.

Researchers from the universities of Keele and Sussex, who published the findings from their study in the journal PLOS ONE, discovered that honeybees had elevated levels of aluminum in their bodies, an amount that could cause toxicity and brain damage in humans.

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"Aluminium is a known neurotoxin affecting behaviour in animal models of aluminium intoxication," said Professor Chris Exley, an expert on human aluminum exposure. "Bees, of course, rely heavily on cognitive function in their everyday behaviour and these data raise the intriguing spectre that aluminium-induced cognitive dysfunction may play a role in their population decline – are we looking at bees with Alzheimer's disease?"

To conduct their research, scientists from the University of Sussex collected pupae from colonies of bumblebees that foraged in the wild, and then sent them to Keele University for analysis and measurement of aluminum content. Pupae are sacks in which bumblebee larvae are developed before hatching into their adult forms. Pupae in the study were found to contain between 13 and 200 parts per million (ppm) of aluminum; only 3 ppm is "considered as potentially pathological in human brain tissue," said researchers.

Earlier studies indicated that bees don't actively avoid nectar that is contaminated with aluminum as they forage. But the Sussex and Keele study was the first to actually demonstrate the consequences of that behavior.

"It is widely accepted that a number of interacting factors are likely to be involved in the decline of bees and other pollinators – lack of flowers, attacks by parasites, and exposure to pesticide cocktails, for example," said Prof. Exley.

Other factors that may also be affecting bee populations neurologically are the neonicotinoids found in a certain family of pesticides. These are systemic pesticides that are designed to infiltrate every portion of a plant, which of course would include the plant pollen and nectar. Because of their harm to pollinators, three neonicotinoids have already been banned in Europe.

A pair of recent studies published in the journal Nature also provide hints that bees could be attracted to plants that are treated with neonicotinoids, and in fact prefer them over plants that are not treated with those pesticides. That may be due to the fact that those pesticides contain a chemical that is close to nicotine; researchers believe that bees may be getting addicted to it, just as humans become addicted to the nicotine in cigarettes.

"There's a conundrum that they are attracted to the stuff that actually is having a negative impact on their motor function and their ability to collect food and forage," said researcher Geraldine Wright of Newcastle University. Wright and colleagues offered honeybees and bumblebees a choice between sugar water solutions either containing or not containing low doses of neonicotinoids. The bees drank more from the pesticide-laced food sources.

The second study, conducted by scientists and researchers from Queen Mary University of London and Royal Holloway, University of London, found that bees infected with parasites were much more likely to feed from neonicotinoid-laced nectar than healthy bees. They also found that the pesticide appeared to slow the progression of the infection, but did not increase life expectancy for afflicted bees.

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