Impact of Insecticides on Pollinators: A Literature Review

2239 words (9 pages) Essay in Environmental Studies

18/05/20 Environmental Studies Reference this

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Literature Review:  Insecticide Use Affecting Pollinators


Worldwide agriculture is dependent upon pesticide or insecticide. The agriculture industry uses pesticides with the intent to protect produce from invasive pests. Regrettably, the pesticide is unable to differentiate between the pests and non-target organisms like the honeybee or butterfly. Due to pesticides inability to distinguish, science is predicting a 40% risk of extinction of pollinators globally (Hall & 2019). Historically, honeybee pollination yielded fruit-like seeds, oilseed, nuts, and fiber crops, providing economic value (Pashte et al., 2018). Moreover, historically, the presence of butterflies served as an indicator of landscape fragmentation, climate change, and environmental health (Braak, Neeve, Jones, Gibbs, & Breuker, 2018). Pollinators pollinate 87% of flowering plants worldwide, delivering environmental health and agriculture services. However, the mass use of pesticides is threatening the economic importance of honeybees and butterflies. Without the honeybee crop yield could decrease by 90% (Aronstein 2019). Moreover, there is a 58% decline risk of the agriculture farmland pollinating butterfly (Braak, Neeve, Jones, Gibbs, & Breuker, 2018). Fortunately, a new nanotechnology is promising. Nanotechnology could improve pest management while increasing productivity and decreasing the impact on non-target organisms prolonging their life (Oliveira et al. 2019). This literature review examines how pesticides are contributing to the decline of honeybees and butterflies, economic ramifications, and scientific methods to reduce their decline.

The effect of pollinator declines on agro-economics

Agro-economics is the economics of agriculture. The current decline of pollinators, including butterflies and honeybees, is putting agro-economics at risk. Hanley, N., Breeze, T. D., Ellis, C., & Goulson, D. (2015) explain, “pollinators primarily provide economic value to crop production through increasing the quantity and quality of crops produced, resulting in greater economic output which is in turn influenced by market prices for the crop” (p 3). Understanding the economic value of pollinators is important in understanding why their decline is affecting agro-economics. Aronstein, Drummond, Eitzer, Ellis, Spivak, Ostiguy, Sheppard (2019) notes, “agriculture depends strongly on the services of the honeybee, which is responsible for providing more than 90% of commercial pollination services. Thus, elevated loss rates seen in managed honeybee colonies threatens the pollination services they provide” (p. 1). Without interference produce and other goods dependent on pollination is at risk. Brewster, Fell, Fulton, Hartz, Lydy, Reeve (2019) state, “large-scale honeybee colony loss threatens pollination services throughout the United States” (p.1). Today, two million acres in America are pollinated by honeybees attributing to a $14.6 billion industry (Brewster, Fell, Fulton, Hartz, Lydy, Reeve 2019). This data is important to note because fundamentally, the value placed on pollinators is dependent on their economic benefit (Hanley, N., Breeze, T. D., Ellis, C., & Goulson, D. 2015). Moreover, it is important to note that pollination influences consumer welfare by maintaining supply and demand, moderating prices, and increasing consumers surplus Hanley, N., Breeze, T. D., Ellis, C., & Goulson, D. (2015). If agriculture cannot supply demands, prices will inflate creating affordability for the consumer. Essentially, the decline of pollinators is affecting their economic benefit, and without implementing sustainable agriculture methods, a further decline may provoke economic turmoil.




The effect of pesticide on the honeybee and butterfly population

Pesticides can be found commercially in agriculture fields and residentially in urban areas. Moreover, pesticides are abundant in parks, golf courses, and other urbanized areas (Braak, Breukera Gibbs, Jones, Neve 2018). Due to accessibility and affordability, the use of pesticides is the chief choice of pest management among the agriculture industry (Pashte et al. 2018). Agricultures dependency on pesticides is directly affecting the decline of honeybees and butterflies. Since 1996, 84% of Monarch butterflies are on the decline, alongside 23% of the honeybee population (Hall & Steiner 2019). These alarming declines and predictions are the reason behind recent scientific research on pollinators.

Pesticides effects on non-target organisms biologically

Pesticides are toxic to target and non-target organisms alike. Right now, neonicotinoids are the pesticide used in much of the world, and neonicotinoids are highly neurotoxic (Braak, Breuker, Gibbs, Jones, Neve 2018). Biologically, neonicotinoids disrupt the fundamental functions of insects like their flight ability and immune health (Barron, Colin, Meikle, & Paten, 2019). Previously, only eight scientific studies examined the influence of industrial pesticides on butterflies (Braak, Breuker, Gibbs, Jones, Neve 2018). However, the present research is focusing on the effect of non-industrial pesticides on butterflies. Braak, Neeve, Jones, Gibbs, & Breuker (2018) state, “pesticides, especially insecticides and herbicides were found to hurt butterfly abundance” (p. 3). Despite this research being conducted on small gardens vs. agriculture land, understanding the effects are very important (Braak, Breuker, Gibbs, Jones, Neve 2018). While examining pesticide use on butterflies, the authors also learned that pesticides affect larvae and butterfly reproduction. The research found the sensitivity to pesticides is dependent on the life stage of the butterfly, caterpillar, cocoon, or adult butterfly.  The authors also noted, “larval density seems to be highest in unsprayed transects and increased in transects that ceased insecticide application” (p. 3). However, it was noted more studies are necessary to determine how pesticides impact each stage of the butterflies life butterfly. Conclusively, the research reveals the importance of researching honeybees and butterflies, physically, mentally, and reproductively.

Defining and examining Nanotechnology

While the various studies are being conducted to reduce pollinator decline, nanoscience and nanotechnology are the most notable. Nanotechnology is the manipulation of atoms and molecules to manufacture materials into nanometers (Rawtani, D., Khatri, N., Tyagi, S., & Pandey, G. 2018). The nanotechnology used in pest management is made of pyrethrum, a natural pesticide made from chrysanthemums (Oliveira et al., 2019). Currently, nanotechnology is in its infancy and may be used for herbicide in the future (Oliveira et al., 2019). Despite the concern of pyrethrum in large quantities that is causing digestive harm to honeybees, a sublethal dose is relatively safe (Oliveira et al., 2019). This revolutionary science is at the forefront of sustainable pest management (Oliveira et al., 2019). However, there are concerns about the sustainability of nanotechnology. Parikhani R., Sadighi H., & Bijani, M. (2018) state, “Some studies suggest that nanotechnology can have numerous effects and consequences, including health and environmental consequences, which can be positive or negative” (p 5). The biggest concern is that the size and mobility of nanoparticles could risk environmental or human health Parikhani R., Sadighi H., & Bijani, M. (2018). However, there is little research to prove in entirety the positive or negative effects of nanotechnology Parikhani R., Sadighi H., & Bijani, M. (2018). The literature suggests despite nanotechnology being a relatively new concept, the pros of nanotechnologies sustainability, and economic value outweighs concerns.

The potential solutions to curbing pollinator decline

Toxicity exposure from the use of pesticides is harming pollinators. Honeybees colony numbers have fallen by 50% in 28 years (Brewster, Fell, Fulton, Hartz, Lydy, Reeve 2019). This rapid decline is the basis for scientific research to determine the amount of toxicity exposure to land use. This research is important because the use of improper pesticides is problematic to low honeybee concentrations (Brewster, Fell, Fulton, Hartz, Lydy, Reeve 2019). Scientific research in Virginia determined the probability of detecting pesticides varied on land use in agriculture, residential, and urban areas (Brewster, Fell, Fulton, Hartz, Lydy, Reeve 2019). Ultimately, pesticides were less frequent in pollen forests than in pastures, urban areas, or agriculture settings (Brewster, Fell, Fulton, Hartz, Lydy, Reeve 2019). This finding is in alignment with the scientists predictions that pesticides would be lower in forested landscapes than residential or agriculture landscapes (Brewster, Fell, Fulton, Hartz, Lydy, Reeve 2019). This research suggests that pesticide and land use is a significant factor in reducing pollinator decline.

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A different scientific approach to curbing pollinator decline involved examining long-term symptoms of various insecticide on the honeybee. According to Pashte, “distinct poisoning symptoms observed in A. mellifera mellifera were extended proboscis, expanded wings, unhooked wings, extended legs and twisted bodies, defecation on cage covers, stinger in release-out position and anus with excreta. All the tested pesticides are harmful to the honeybee except azadirachtin” (p. 1). The different poisoning symptoms could provide beekeepers with tools to identify colony collapse (Pashte et al. 2018). Moreover, the data revealed by this author could one day minimize pollinator decline by choosing or formulating a lower dose of pesticide in crop management. Another approach to pollinator decline is by treating pesticide toxicity. Scientists are attempting to reverse or cure pesticide toxicity on pollinators using imidacloprid and thymol treatments (Barron, Colin, Meikle, Paten 2019). Imidacloprid is a type of pesticide, and thymol is a standard treatment (Barron, Colin, Meikle, Paten 2019). This research could explain why the effect of pesticides on bee colonies vary in environments (Barron, Colin, Meikle, Paten 2019). The methodology in this research includes keeping the dynamics of food, and the brood of bees consistent while feeding treatments over six weeks in two different locations the U.S.A, and Australia (Barron, Colin, Meikle, Paten 2019). Despite noting thymol to weaken hives, the samples collected determined the imidacloprid and thymol treatments successful (Barron, Colin, Meikle, Paten 2019). This research is critical to understand the long-term effects of pesticide and environmental stress on honeybees (Barron, Colin, Meikle, Paten 2019). Ultimately, the findings in this research could one day reduce pollinator decline.


Pollinators are indispensable to ecology, agriculture, the environment, and humanity. They are responsible for pollinating wildflowers worldwide, aiding agriculture, and being the leading indicator of environmental health. Furthermore, they are profitable and support the world economy; however, their decline due to pesticides and consequential lack of pollination could create a massive economic loss. Pollinators now rely on scientific research on pesticide effects, nanotechnology, and land use to reduce pollinator decline. The future is uncertain, but the threat of pollinator decline is likely to lessen with further scientific research.


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