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Minimizing the Risks of Pesticides for Pollinators

Pesticides are commonly used in urban and agricultural environments to kill invertebrate pests, diseases, and weeds. However, many pesticides - including insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides - harm pollinators and other beneficial insects. Their effects include removing important floral resources, causing subtle yet concerning effects on reproduction, navigation and memory and high-profile incidents when pesticides kill bees. Exposure to pesticides can also compound the effects of other stressors on pollinator populations, such as loss of habitat and exposure to pathogens and diseases. 

Pesticide contamination is wide-spread. More than 90% of pollen samples from bee hives in agricultural landscapes and more than 90% of stream samples are contaminated with more than one pesticide. It is critical that we work simultaneously to reduce use of pesticides and to minimize the risk of pesticides to pollinators where pesticides are used.

As part of the Xerces Society’s conservation efforts, we strive to reduce reliance on pesticides by supporting the diverse systems that reduce pest problems. We work with farmers and land managers to incorporate pollinator protection into every step of the decision making process for pesticide use. We also work to ensure that flowering habitat is protected from pesticide contamination in both agricultural and urban settings. 


Exposure Pathways

Pollinators may be exposed to pesticides in numerous ways, including direct contact with spray residue on plants, through ingestion of contaminated pollen and nectar, or through exposure to contaminated nesting sited or materials.

Direct contact occurs when pesticides land directly on pollinators. The risk of direct contact is highest when pesticides are applied on or near flowering plants, be they crops or weeds.

Residue contact occurs when pollinators visit flowers or walk on leaves that have been previously treated with pesticides.

Butterflies can be at risk of exposure when laying eggs on host plants that have been treated with pesticides. Solitary bees risk exposure when collecting plant material or soil used to construct nests.

Wild bees often nest in areas between row crops, in brush piles, or overgrown areas at field edges. These sites can become contaminated when pesticides are applied nearby.

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