Neonicotinoid Pesticides “Poisoning the Web of Life”
A new study has revealed that bird populations are declining by 3.5 percent each year in areas with high concentrations of the most widely used neonicotinoid pesticide.
These pesticides, which have gained scrutiny for their lethal effects on bees, are now being shown to harm other species, including starlings, tree sparrows and swallows.
Neonicotinoids are neurotoxins designed to be lethal to insects, but they have also been shown to affect other species. The specific way birds are harmed by these insecticides is unclear. It’s possible that the birds are eating poisoned insects, starving due to a shortage of insects to eat, or even eating seeds covered in the neonicotinoids.
“The cascading impacts of these pesticides are poisoning the web of life,” said Jonathan Evans, toxics and endangered species campaign director with the US Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s time we learn from the mistakes in our past with these dangerous pesticides and stop recklessly approving toxics at the behest of chemical companies.”
The study published by scientists from Radboud University in Nijmegen and the Dutch Centre for Field Ornithology and Birdlife Netherlands, compared data on farmland bird populations and chemical concentrations in surface water in the Netherlands. It found that the most common neonicotinoid pesticide, called imidacloprid, has a much wider effect on the environment than previously estimated and can have lingering effects on wildlife similar to many banned pesticides.
This wouldn’t be the first time that pesticides have been linked to declines in bird populations. In 1962, Rachel Carson published her most famous work, Silent Spring, detailing the cancerous and genetically damaging effects of the pesticide DDT on both animals and people. DDT was eventually banned because of its devastating impacts on birds, including bald eagles.
“One after another, new studies are revealing the extreme hazards these poisons pose for pollinators and the environment,” added Evans. “We can’t trust the pesticide industry to keep us safe; it’s time to draw the line and ban neonicotinoid pesticides until it is proved beyond a doubt that they are safe.”
Despite industry claims that neonicotinoids are safe when used as directed, an independent review found that they were likely to have negative impacts on wildlife due to dangerously high cumulative levels of the pesticide in the surrounding ecosystem.
In an effort to protect wildlife from pesticides, the Center for Biological Diversity has petitioned for a ban on the use of neonicotinoids in national wildlife refuges and worked to reform the way pesticides are reviewed in the United States. Conservation groups have called on retailers to stop selling neonicotinoid tainted plants that can harm pollinators such as bees.