The Bees’ Needs: Dietary Additives as a Method to Reduce Pesticide Toxicity in Honey Bees

Brittany Leyda

Student Name: Brittany Leyda
Major: Biology
Minor: Spanish
Advisors: Dr. Laura Sirot, Dr. Reed Johnson, Dr. Stephen Ferguson

Dr. Melissa M. Schultz Sustainability and the Environment Award

Honey bees numbers are in decline. This decline is caused by many interacting factors, from the invasive Varroa mites to the extensive use of pesticides on crops. Not only can pesticides outright kill bees, but they can also lessen the ability of honey bees to respond to other stressors. To address this issue, I analyzed the effects of phytochemical dietary additives on the toxicity of pesticides when applied to honey bees via spray application. Phytochemicals are naturally occurring compounds in plants that occur in honey bee diets, and they can increase the production of enzymes that break down harmful chemicals including pesticides. Researchers have found that phytochemical dietary additives can reduce pesticide toxicity, and I wanted to test whether phytochemicals could reduce toxicity under more field-realistic conditions (by using commercial pesticide formulations rather than the active ingredients and using spray methods to apply the pesticides). To answer my research question, I fed honey bees one of three phytochemical treatments and sprayed them with one of six pesticide treatments. I recorded the number of dead bees and used the data to create dose-response curves to analyze the toxicity. I found that phytochemicals reduced the toxicity of several pesticides that have not been assessed before in this context. I was excited to tackle this research question largely due to my love for and desire to protect honey bees, and the idea that my results have practical applications for addressing honey bee decline is extremely fulfilling to me. I hope to see research that applies these conclusions to managed honey bee colonies to determine whether phytochemical dietary additives can be a viable part of the solution to honey bee decline.
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Brittany will be online to field comments on April 16: Noon-2 pm EDT (PST 9am-11am, Africa/Europe: early evening).

Posted in I.S. Symposium 2021, Independent Study on April 7, 2021.