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Pesticides used by beekeepers may harm bees’ gut microbiota

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A number of studies have shown the harmful effects of a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids, but beekeepers use a variety of other types of pesticides thought to help bees by ridding their hives of parasites and associated pathogens.

A new study suggests these seemingly beneficial pesticides may be harming bees’ gut microbiota, the community of microbes that help bees and their digestive system metabolize sugars and peptides.

Researchers published their latest findings on apian gut flora health in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology.

“Our research suggests that pesticides could specifically impact the microbes that are crucial to honey bee nutrition and health,” lead study author Mark Williams, an associate professor of horticulture at Virginia Tech, said in a news release.

Researchers analyzed the microbes found in the intestines of bees from different hives. The gut microbiomes of honeybees from chlorothalanil-treated hives featured the most dramatic changes.

Scientists now want to explore the connections between specific microbiota changes and changes in bee health.

“Our team wants to better describe the core microbiota using bioinformatics to help best characterize the microbes that support healthy honeybees and thus stave off disease naturally,” said Richard Rodrigues, a postdoctoral researcher at Oregon State University.