A bee. Image taken from Wikimedia Commons.
Amid the startling find that the bee population is dropping, there are speculations into what is causing this sudden trend. Recently, work by scientists (original article here) have looked beyond pesticides and measured the content of aluminum, a pollutant, in bumblebee pupae (insect stage before it becomes an adult) and found increased amounts. This, they speculate, may be causing cognitive disruption, like Alzheimer’s disease in humans, in bees, possibly leading to their decline.

Aluminum is a known neurotoxin (something that disrupts nerve tissue), however, currently there is no concrete data that definitively proves the involvement of aluminum in Alzheimer’s disease. Though the study shows increased levels of aluminum in bumblebee pupae, it might not be enough to affect the life span or memory of a bumblebee. The current study did not measure the life span or conduct memory tests on the bumblebees to conclusively say the levels of aluminum found in the pupae had a negative effect on the population, however another study done on fruit flies showed that only higher amounts of aluminum than those found in the bumblebee pupae affected the life span of the fruit flies (Wu et al.).

It is therefore not yet certain and perhaps unlikely that aluminum by itself is causing the decline in bee population, although more comprehensive testing still needs to be done.

Written by SITN Waves correspondent Ankita Shastri. Many thanks to Nick Warren and Elizabeth Lamkin for their great insight into the story. Nick is a graduate student in Pharmacology department at Dartmouth and Elizabeth is a graduate student in the Neuroscience department at Harvard.

References:

Exley, C., Rotheray, E., and Goulson, D., Bumblebee Pupae Contain High Levels of Aluminum, PLOS one, 10, (2015)

Wu, Z., et al. Aluminum induces neurodegeneration and its toxicity arises from increased iron accumulation and reactive oxygen species production. Neurobiology of Aging, 33 199.e1-199.e12 (2012)

3 thoughts on “The dwindling population of bees and aluminum levels

  1. I have aired this mystery to the hive keepers themselves and the response was somewhat a nut job for doing so. Do we put this down to political correctness gone wrong or simply folks who have had a bad day at the races. Whatever the possibility the folks are saying this new idea is Fake News, yet not enough funding by the corporate bodies has been dealt. The big pharmacy and mono crop producers don’t really need bees for corn or wheat pollination but do use a known agent called glyphosate, is there aluminium in this kind of poison.

  2. Aluminium is endemic in the natural environment in feldspar minerals, clay and soil. It is the third most common element is crustal soils. Soil and dust average about 7.3 % aluminium and clay about 30% but it takes moisture and acidity in soil to make the aluminium form aluminium ions and become bioavailable. Aluminium toxicity in plants is directly related to soil ph so it seems sensible to investigate acidity levels affecting the bees’ food sources if that is suspected of being causative of any problems.

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