A new study has found the first piece of hard evidence proving neonicotinoid pesticides used to kill bees has caused the population of insect-eating birds decline. chemical relatives, the organochlorine insecticides, are killing birds. In addition, although organophosphate and carbamate insecticides are not as persistent as organochlorines because they are more rapidly degraded by light and microbes, their high acute toxicity and widespread use make them a significant problem to birds. Several acutely toxic herbicides also kill birds. A brief survey of bird mortality associated with each of these classes of pesticides follows.
Neonicotinoids are growing in the world market to become the most widely used pesticides and are often used to treat seeds – which makes the entire plant contain the chemical. (Yes, that means it doesn't wash off) This might be useful to the farmer who wishes to target multiple pests such as those that eat roots and others that devour leaves, but that also means pollinators like bees get exposed to contaminated pollen, butterflies to nectar and birds can become immobilized or die after consuming treated seeds. Furthermore, they get into surface water in a variety of ways and build up and persist in the soil for years.
This study focused on multiple bird species that only consumed insects. So, we are talking about wildlife birds, which makes the findings even more perturbing to the researchers. It found that neonicotinoids affected their population in two ways: directly in large …
The authors state: At imidacloprid concentrations of more than 20 nanograms per litre, bird populations tended to decline by 3.5 per cent on average annually. Additional analyses revealed that this spatial pattern of decline appeared only after the introduction of imidacloprid to the Netherlands, in the mid-1990s.
Furthermore: Recent studies have shown that neonicotinoid insecticides have adverse effects on non-target invertebrate species. Invertebrates constitute a substantial part of the diet of many bird species during the breeding season and are indispensable for raising offspring.
While their findings on bird decline linked to neonicotinoids in water and through the unintended eradication of their food source are compelling – they stopped short of claiming direct cause. They do however, show that the correlation wasn't a coincidence. They are building a line of evidence and joining up with other scientists who have reported similar findings with other animals. Common explanations such as population changes, crop changes and urbanization did not hold water under their battery of tests.
Kroon said: Our analysis shows that based on our data imidacloprid was by far the best explanatory variable for differences in trends between areas.
He told BBC: In 10 years, it's a 35% reduction in the local population. It's really huge. It means the alarm bells are on straight away.
Bayer CropScience, leading maker of imidacloprid adamantly denied the study findings, emphasizing lack of direct cause and “substantiated evidence.” In a response, they wrote: “Neonicotinoids have gone through an extensive risk assessment which has shown that they are safe to the environment when used responsibly according to the label instructions.” This is an all-too-common retort that seems to attempt placing the smoking gun in farmers' hands.
Pesticides will continue to kill birds, reduce their food resources, and disrupt their normal behaviors as long as pesticides continue to be used. The only way to eliminate the effects that pesticides have on birds is to use nonchemical resource management techniques. On farms, in forests, on lawns, and elsewhere that pesticides are used, managers are finding that these techniques work well and make economic sense. Our job is to see that they are implemented more widely.
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