A bee researcher’s bees kept dying. The culprit was a nearby ethanol plant.

In FERN's latest piece, and the last from our special food issue with Switchyard magazine, reporter Dan Charles takes us through an agricultural mystery that leads, disturbingly, to a regulatory failure that threatens bees and other pollinators still today.

Lawsuit challenges EPA over pesticide-coated seeds

Renewing a fight that began five years ago, two environmental groups have sued the EPA to force it to regulate pesticide-coated seeds in the name of protecting bees and other pollinators. Seeds coated with neonicotinoid insecticides are used on 80 percent of corn land and 40 percent of soybean land, although researchers question their value against late-emerging crop pests.

Neonics, already in the regulatory crosshairs, now suspected of harming mammals, birds and fish

Scores of studies have established that neonicotinoids, the most widely used pesticides in the world, are contributing to the steady decline of bees and other insects across North America and Europe. Now evidence is growing that these compounds, tailored to take out invertebrates, can also harm mammals, birds, and fish, as Elizabeth Royte explains in FERN's latest story, published with National Geographic.(No paywall)

Bee colony loss rate is second-highest ever

Beekeepers lost 44 percent of their colonies in the year ending on April 1, the second-highest rate since surveys began in 2006, said the Bee Informed Partnership on Monday. The high annual rate was driven by severe losses last summer among commercial beekeepers, who lost one-third of their …

EPA approves sulfoxaflor as crop insecticide after studying impact on bees

Four years after an adverse ruling by a federal appeals court, the EPA approved the insecticide sulfoxaflor for use on a wide variety of crops, saying the chemical posed less of a risk to honeybees than previously thought. The law firm that won the 2015 ruling said the EPA decision "to remove restrictions on yet another bee-killing pesticide is nothing short of reckless."

House bill would suspend use of neonicotinoid insecticides

Two Democratic lawmakers unveiled legislation to suspend the use of neonicotinoid insecticides, with the goal of reducing high mortality rates of honeybees and other pollinating species.

Neonics found year-round in Great Lakes tributaries

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey found neonicotinoid insecticides in 74 percent of the water samples they analyzed from 10 major tributaries of the Great Lakes. The insecticides were "detected in every month sampled and five of the six target neonicotinoids were detected." Environmental Health News says the study "suggests the Great Lakes' fish, birds and entire ecosystems might be at risk" from the insecticides that are believed to be a factor in high mortality rates of honeybees.

New Jersey apiarists abuzz over state beekeeping rules

The New Jersey Agriculture Department says it is balancing the interests of beekeepers and their neighbors in developing statewide honeybee regulations.

Lithium chloride may be tool against honeybee parasite

German researchers report that lithium chloride “is highly effective” in killing Varroa mites, a parasite commonly listed as one of the major reasons for high mortality among the pollinating insects.

Researchers experiment with windbreaks as an aid for pollinators

At the University of Nebraska, researchers are experimenting with the agricultural landscape to see if modifications such as windbreaks or cover crops will limit pesticide drift and help bees avoid harmful exposure to the chemicals. Farmers generally plant corn and soybean seeds coated with neonicotinoid insecticides, which can be rubbed off of the seed during planting and land on plants visited by foraging bees, says Harvest Public Media.

Americans unaware of our wealth of bee species

Many Americans know that honeybees are threatened by colony collapse disorder, but few of them realize just how many different kinds of bees there are, says a study published in the online edition of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

Bee colony losses are on the decline this year

A nationwide survey of beekeepers found a smaller loss of honey bee colonies this year than last, said USDA in its annual Honey Bee Colonies report. The USDA report, which gauged the bee inventory are recently as mid-year, was in line with university researchers who reported in May that losses are moderating after steep drops in the population of the important pollinating insects.

Two major studies find neonic pesticides harmful to bees

Two new farm-based studies have provided some of the most compelling evidence to date that neonicotinoid pesticides are harmful to domestic and wild bees.The first study, paid for in part by $3 million from Syngenta and Bayer and published in the journal Science, “took place at 33 large farmland sites spread across the UK, Germany and Hungary.

Beekeepers’ practices may help parasitic Varroa mite to spread

Among the afflictions that drive down honeybee populations, the blood-sucking Varroa mite, which weakens and shortens the life of bees, usually is at the top of the list. A paper in the journal Environmental Entomology says the mite takes advantage of bee industry practices, such as placing colonies near each other and preventing colonies from dividing, to multiply in a hive and to spread to other hives, reports Growing Produce, a specialty crop publication.

Study: Neonic coatings on soybean seeds don’t boost yields

A two-year, multi-state study, paid for by soybean check-off funds, found no yield benefit from planting soybean seeds coated with a neonicotinoid insecticide compared to untreated seeds. The study was a joint effort of seven universities in the Plains and Midwest and concluded that, as far as expenses and pest control were concerned, farmers were better off to scout their fields and apply insecticides as needed.

EPA wrongly approved use of neonics in 59 instances, says judge

A U.S. district judge in California ruled that the EPA violated the Endangered Species Act when it issued 59 registrations from 2007-12 that allow use of neonicotinoid insecticides in agricultural, landscaping and ornamental uses. District Judge Maxine Chesney issued a mixed verdict that upheld some the issues raised by beekeepers and environmental groups but denied others.

Europe considers total ban on anti-bee insecticides

The European Commission is considering draft regulations to ban the mostly widely used insecticides in fields across Europe in order to protect bees, according to documents obtained by The Guardian via the Pesticide Action Network Europe. A vote is expected this May; if passed the ban could take effect within months.

700 plus wild bee species are dwindling, says study

More than 700 of the 4,000 wild bee species in North America and Hawaii are seeing falling numbers due to habitat loss, pesticide use, climate change and monoculture farming, says the Center for Biological Diversity.

New on the list of animals that use tools: Bumblebees

Scientists have discovered that bumble bees "actually can learn to use a new tool by watching others," says the Los Angeles Times. The results "add to a growing body of work showing that these kinds of smarts aren’t limited to bigger-brained, vertebrate animals (such as humans)." The research, published in the journal Science, went beyond so-called swarm intelligence to look at the capacity of individual bees.

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