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Campus Currents May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2

Waggle-Dance Blues

Honey bees are having difficulties dancing—and surviving. It’s all due to a pesticide commonly sprayed on crops and gardens throughout the state.

Two UC San Diego biologists have discovered honey bees that eat this pesticide become “picky eaters” and fail to recruit their nestmates with their waggle dances, which communicate the location of good sources of food.

Their study, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, sheds light on one of the main culprits suspected to be behind the recent declines in honey bee colonies.

Since 2006, beekeepers in North America and Europe have lost about one-third of their managed bee colonies each year due to “colony collapse disorder.” And researchers believe pesticides have contributed to this decline.

The focus of the study is Imidacloprid, the sixth most commonly used pesticide in California. The researchers found that honey bees treated with a small, single dose of Imidacloprid, comparable to what they would receive in nectar, became “picky eaters.”

“The bees preferred to only feed on sweeter nectar and refused nectars of lower sweetness than they would normally feed on and that would have provided important sustenance for the colony,” says Daren Eiri, a graduate student who conducted the study with James Nieh, a biology professor.

—Kim McDonald