Pitt researchers find toxic metals move from soil to flowers, affecting bumblebees
A University of Pittsburgh study links toxic amounts of aluminum and nickel found in flowers to health problems in bumblebees.
Bumblebees risk ingesting toxic amounts of the metals in flowers growing in soil that was contaminated by exhaust from vehicles, industrial machinery and farm equipment, according to the study, which was published in Environmental Pollution, a research journal.
“Folks are just starting to look at how metal accumulation affects plants and insects that pollinate,” said George Meindl, co-author of the study and doctoral candidate in biology at Pitt.
The Pitt study found bumblebees can taste yet ignore metals such as nickel.
“Although many metals are required by living organisms in small amounts, they can be toxic to both plants and animals when found in moderate to high concentrations,” said Tia-Lynn Ashman, principal investigator of the study and professor and associate chair in Pitt's department of biological sciences. “These metals can interfere with insect taste perception, agility and working memory — all necessary attributes for busy bumblebee workers.”
Bees didn't sense aluminum, Meindl said.
Unlike honeybees, bumblebees are mostly natural pollinators. While the Pitt study involved bumblebees, Meindl said the heavy metals likely harm honeybees.
He said the research does not prove a connection between heavy metals and colony collapse disorder, a syndrome that has resulted in commercial beekeepers losing at least 30 percent of their bees each winter since 2006.
Researchers say CCD is caused by a mix of factors.
Beekeeper Brett Adee, whose Adee Honey Farms in Bruce, S.D., is the nation's largest, doubts that heavy metals play a role in the syndrome.
“That might be a concern in real industrial areas. Bees were kept exceptionally healthy for decades and there have been heavy metals around for years — probably more in the past than now. I don't think a change that was so fast, like CCD, could have been primarily caused by heavy metals,” said Adee, who lost 55 percent of his 70,000 bee colonies during the winter.
Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pitt’s new chancellor Gallagher to continue broad role at school
- Liberty Tunnel set to close; other highway projects around Pittsburgh also to start
- Newsmaker: Shirley Ho
- Beloved teacher at 3 Western Pa. schools hears from students across nation
- Feds admit cooperation remains obstacle with corporations, cyber threats
- Victim identified in Pleasant Hills apartment fire
- Oakland eatery Fuel & Fuddle to reopen under new owners
- Newsmaker: Brian Stein
- Private parking lots slow to follow Pittsburgh’s increase in rates
- Foreign influx in Allegheny County at ‘tipping point’
- Corbett christens $960K bus shelter, bicycle station in Robinson