Honey Bees Can Help Monitor Pollution in Cities

Honey from urban bees can tell us how clean a city is and help pinpoint the sources of environmental pollutants such as lead, new University of British Columbia research has found.

In a study published today in Nature Sustainability, scientists from UBC’s Pacific Centre for Isotopic and Geochemical Research (PCIGR) analyzed honey from urban beehives in six Metro Vancouver neighbourhoods. They tested for minuscule levels of lead, zinc, copper and other elements and carried out lead isotope analyses – akin to fingerprinting – to identify where the lead came from.

“The good news is that the chemical composition of honey in Vancouver reflects its environment and is extremely clean,” said Kate E. Smith, lead author of the study and PhD candidate at PCIGR. “We also found that the concentration of elements increased the closer you got to downtown Vancouver, and by fingerprinting the lead we can tell it largely comes from manmade sources.”

Tiny elements, tiny measurements

Metro Vancouver honey is well below the worldwide average for heavy metals like lead, and an adult would have to consume more than 600 grams, or two cups, of honey every day to exceed tolerable levels.

“The instruments at PCIGR are very sensitive and measure these elements in parts per billion, or the equivalent of one drop of water in an Olympic-sized swimming pool,” said Dominique Weis, senior author and director of the institute.

The researchers found the concentration of elements increased closer to areas with heavy traffic, higher urban density and industrial activity such as shipping ports. Places like the city of Delta showed elevated levels of manganese, which could be a result of agricultural activity and pesticide use in the area.

Map of Metro Vancouver, featuring locations of the sampled for this study and possible sources of manmade trace elements.

Map of Metro Vancouver, featuring locations of the sampled for this study and possible sources of manmade trace elements.

Lead fingerprints point to manmade culprits

In the first study of its kind in North America, the researchers also compared the lead fingerprints of the honey to those from other local environmental samples like lichen from around British Columbia, rock from the Garibaldi volcanic belt, sediment from the Fraser River and trees in Stanley Park.

They discovered that the lead fingerprints of the honey did not match any local, naturally-occurring lead. However, the trees in Stanley Park and the honeys from downtown displayed some striking similarities that pointed to potential manmade sources of lead.

“We found they both had fingerprints similar to aerosols, ores and coals from large Asian cities,” said Weis. “Given that more than 70 per cent of cargo ships entering the Port of Vancouver originate from Asian ports, it’s possible they are one source contributing to elevated lead levels in downtown Vancouver.”

Honey is able to provide such localized “snapshots” of the environment because honey bees typically forage for pollen and nectar within a two- to three-kilometre radius of their hives.

“We now have four years of consistent data from Metro Vancouver, which provides a present-day baseline that will allow us to monitor even tiny changes in our environment very efficiently,” said Weis.

Citizen science for communities

The research was carried out in partnership with Hives for Humanity, a local non-profit that creates opportunities for people in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside to engage in urban beekeeping.

"One of the exciting parts of this study is that it bridges science with community interests," said Smith. "Honey sampling can easily be performed by citizen scientists in other urban centres, even if they lack other environmental monitoring capabilities."

The team will continue to study how honey analysis might complement traditional air and soil monitoring techniques and test the efficiency of honey as an environmental monitor in other cities.

Find other stories about: Dominique WeisHoneybeesKate E. SmithPacific Centre for Isotopic and Geochemical Research (PCIGR)

https://news.ubc.ca/2019/03/11/honey-bees-can-help-monitor-pollution-in-cities/

It's Earth Day! Let's Join Together and Save the Honey Bee!

Huffington Post  By Margie Alt   April 22, 2015 

Forty-five years ago, the first Earth Day spawned great progress for our air, water and natural areas. The day activated millions of Americans, brought together political leaders of all stripes, and led to the passage of the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and other bedrock environmental laws. Today, the annual day of action for the environment still inspires more than 1 billion people across the globe.

This Earth Day while celebrating our big accomplishments, we also need to think about something small: the honeybee. Though less than an inch long, the tiny honeybee has major implications for our food supply. In addition to providing us with honey and aiding the beauty of our gardens, honeybees are responsible for pollinating an estimated 71 percent of the world's most widely consumed food crops, including almonds, squash, apples, avocados and more.

Image: FlickrUnfortunately, despite decades of environmental progress, today our food supply and our gardens are in trouble. Bees are dying by the millions. U.S. bee populations have reached historic lows, and we're losing nearly a third of our bee colonies each year -- a rate that more than triples what was once considered normal.

Scientists point to a complex web of factors, including climate change and habitat destruction, to explain the massive collapse of bee colonies here and across the world. But a certain class of insecticides has emerged as a clear culprit. Sharing the same chemical properties as nicotine, neonicotinoids are neurotoxins that can kill bees directly. In addition, these chemicals can disorient them and make it harder for them to get back to their hives. And they can create long-term health and reproductive problems for bee populations.

Image: Waugsberg / Wikimedia Creative CommonsMore than 30 lab studies have shown that these pesticides are a danger to bees. Yet nearly three-quarters of U.S. farms are doused with neonics each year, and up to half of garden plants currently sold in retailers Walmart, Home Depot, and Lowes have been pre-treated with the harmful chemicals.

Slowly, that's beginning to change. The state of Oregon just enacted a limited ban on four types of neonics. Major garden-supply retailers Lowes recently announced it will phase out the use of neonics in its pesticides and garden plants. And earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took a modest step forward when it announced it would likely ban new uses of the pesticide.

But more must be done. And Earth Day is a perfect day for action.To reverse today's alarming honeybee decline, let's all call for governments and corporations to ban neonics. And if you're planting a garden this spring, you also can help save the bees in your in own backyard. Don't use pesticides or plants and seeds treated with them. And whether your garden spans a flower box or your entire yard, include plants that bees love, such as native wildflowers, flowering herbs, and berries.

This Earth Day, let's certainly celebrate our big accomplishments. But don't forget to think of the little honeybee too. Support efforts to ban neonics, plant a bee-friendly garden, and protect honeybees for the summer and years to come so that on future Earth Days, along with celebrating the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act we can celebrate the revival of the honeybees.

Read at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/margie-alt/its-earth-day-lets-join-together-and-save-the-honeybee_b_7112722.html