Pesticide Linked to Bee Deaths May Be Hurting Birds, Too

Jul 09, 2014 03:47 PM EDT | Jordan Ecarma

An insecticide that has been linked to bee deaths may also be responsible for diminished bird populations in Europe, a new study says.

Popular in agriculture and purportedly environmentally friendly, imidacloprid is a neonicotinoid chemical that is used to kill pests but may be hurting birds as well, BBC News reported. The research team believes that the insecticides accumulate over time in soil and water, which eradicates more insects than intended and in turn hurts the bird population.

"If the concentrations are higher than 20 nanograms per liter in the environment, we found a reduction of 3.5 percent in local populations," said study co-author Hans de Kroon of Radboud University.

"In ten years, it's a 35 percent reduction in the local population; it's really huge. It means the alarm bells are on straight away."

The scientists say that neonicotinoids can leach into soil and water and remain there for two or three years, killing too many of the insects that make up the birds' diet. The research team looked at 15 bird species that rely on insects for their diet, focusing on warblers, swallows, starlings and thrushes. Their findings have been published in the journal Nature.

On the other hand, Bayer--the pesticide's manufacturer--denies that imidacloprid is directly linked to the bird population decline.

"Neonicotinoids have gone through an extensive risk assessment which has shown that they are safe to the environment when used responsibly according to the label instructions," said a spokesman.

"Birds living close to aquatic habitats--the species that one could expect to be affected most by concentrations of neonicotinoids in surface water--show no or negligible negative impact."

More than one study has linked the pesticide to a drop in bee populations. According to a recent study, 36 out of 71 plant samples used in the research had neonicotinoids, indicating that supposedly harmless pesticides are hurting honeybees.

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