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Front Physiol. 2019 Sep 18;10:1069. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2019.01069. eCollection 2019.

Botanical Origin of Pesticide Residues in Pollen Loads Collected by Honeybees During and After Apple Bloom.

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Faculty of Science and Technology, Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, Bolzano, Italy.
Laboratorio Biologico, Agenzia Provinciale per l'Ambiente e la Tutela del Clima, Bolzano, Italy.
Laboratorio Analisi Alimenti, Agenzia Provinciale per l'Ambiente e la Tutela del Clima, Bolzano, Italy.


Honeybees closely rely on insect-pollinated plants for their survival. Each forager bee displays a tendency of loyalty toward specific plant species during the many daily foraging flights. Due to the ease of collection, pollen loads have been extensively used as a proxy for detection of pesticide residues. Pollen is the main protein food source for colonies, and its contamination has also been addressed as a reason for the colony losses phenomenon. As honeybees fly over a variable but wide range territory, they might collect pollen from both agricultural, urban and wild environments, also displaying considerable preferences in botanical sources between colonies of the same apiary. It is thus difficult to address the source of the pesticide contamination, when pollen is analyzed as a whole. In the current study, a practical and reliable approach has been proposed to narrow down the source of contamination. Pollen loads have been collected from colonies placed in eight locations over large apple orchard extensions in Trentino-South Tyrol region (Italy), during and 2 weeks after apple blossom. The pollen loads have been separated by the color due to the predominant plant species. On each color group, palynology and multi-residual chemical analyses have been performed in parallel. The pollen hazard quotient (PHQ) was used to estimate the risk to honeybees of each color group and of the total collected pollen. Apple and dandelion pollen were the main portions of the first collection, while a greater variety emerged after the apple blossom. Dandelion was always present in the samples. The frequency and the amount of pesticide residues differed according to the collection periods, the locations and the pollen color groups. The amount of insecticide residues increased after the apple blossom, while no difference between the period was found on fungicide residues. The PHQ values were higher after the blossom due to the insecticide contribution, with highest values of 160,000 and 150,000. The variations within samples did not allow to identify a unique source of contamination, whereas it seems that the pollen from plants outside the agricultural areas has as much residues as the pollen from apple orchards.


PHQ; agricultural landscape; colony loss; multi-residue analysis; palynology; pesticide drift; pollen color

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