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  • Writer's picturePollinator Stewardship Council

Honeybees Feel Effects of Habitat Destruction

PSC Board Member and Beekeeper Richard Coy Speaks Out on Dicamba

Honeybees and other pollinators are feeling the effects of habitat destruction. Urban sprawl and intensive agriculture have been chipping away habitats for decades. Now pollinators face an even greater risk from increasing use of a herbicide known as Dicamba. This herbicide has been documented to turn into a gas and move uncontrollably across the landscape. Researchers refer to this as volatility.

During the summer of 2017, farmers in soybean and cotton growing regions began planting a new form of seed that had tolerance to Dicamba. The Dicamba Tolerant (DT) seeds are known as Roundup Ready Xtend System. This technology was developed by Monsanto so farmers would have better control of weeds. Although the Xtend System was effective for farmers who chose to use the product, its uncontrollable damage to non-DT crops, gardens, and pollinator habitats became evident. Weed science experts Dr. Ford Baldwin and Dr. David Mortensen warned of the volatility component of Dicamba for many years prior to the release of the Xtend System.  Prior to the release of the Xtend crops, Dr. Mortensen published a research study in 2015 showing that sub-lethal doses of Dicamba, (.1% of labeled rate), on non DT plants, such as alfalfa and boneset, would reduce flowering and subsequently reduce pollinator visits by 50 percent. (Eric W. Bohnenblust, Anthony D. Vaudo, J. Franklin Egan, David A. Mortensen, John F. Tooker, Effects of the herbicide dicamba on nontarget plants and pollinator visitation, Published July 2015)

Beekeepers have been experiencing below-average honey yields and reduced colony strength in areas where Xtend crops are grown. This is due to non-crop vegetation being damaged by volatile Dicamba. Honeybees rely on an abundance of pollen and nectar in order to sustain a healthy colony. Without the essential components of pollen and nectar, honeybee colonies are doomed to an unhealthy existence which in many cases leads to the death of the colony. Multiple state agencies and environmental groups across the central US have documented Dicamba residue in multiple species of trees, flowering vines, clover, and alfalfa.

EPA recently announced that chronic effects from dicamba exposure have been shown in mammals (reduced weight and delayed sexual maturation), birds (reduced number of offspring), and honey bees (reduced weight, survival, and adult emergence). Also, EPA says “Based on the weight of evidence, there is an identified risk concern for terrestrial plants.” Furthermore, in a memo released in a report dated May 24, 2021, the EPA Office of Inspector General (OIG) determined that the Agency “deviated from typical procedures in its 2018 Dicamba pesticide registration decision.” ( Dicamba: Draft Ecological Risk Assessment for Registration Review

Posted by the Environmental Protection Agency on Aug 17, 2022),(OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL Report No. 21-E-0146)

The current registration for Dicamba products used on Xtend crops expires in 2025. Honeybees and other pollinators will continue to lose areas of healthy habitat for the foreseeable future while being exposed to harm. Why is it important to you? Diversity of pollinator habitat is critical to the health of honeybees, and the countless food choices we enjoy will be in question. Unfortunately, honeybees and other pollinators are not the only ones affected by habitat destruction, they are the “canary in the coal mine”, which should be alarming to us all.

Learn more about dicamba:

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