Bee-based environmental biomonitoring of pesticides, pollutants, and pathogens


Cunningham MM, Tran L, McKee CG, Ortega-Polo R, Newman T, Lansing L, Griffiths JS, Bilodeau GJ, Rott M, Guarna MM. Bee-based environmental biomonitoring of pesticides, pollutants, and pathogens. North America Bee Research Conference. Virtual, Jan 13-14, 2022


Monitoring the environment for pollution, pesticides, and pathogens is crucial for protecting human, agriculture, and overall ecosystem health. The European honey bee, Apis mellifera, is a globally managed pollinator that can serve as a continuous biomonitoring species. During foraging, honey bees are exposed to pesticides and pathogens and carry them to their hives where they can be detected and quantified. Although individual bees are vulnerable to many contaminants, the honey bee colony is more resilient and accumulates stressors without collapsing. This allows for long term monitoring and the potential to create spatio-temporal gradients of environmental contamination. We will discuss demonstrated and proposed uses of honey bees and their hive materials (honey, bee wax, and stored pollen) for environmental biomonitoring of pesticides and plant pathogens. We will also present the use of gene expression, microbiome profiling, and other high-throughput methodologies to increase detection sensitivity. Bee-based monitoring could also be expanded to study emerging threats such as antimicrobial resistance. This presentation highlights the versatility and potential utility of honey bees as biomonitors of ecosystem health.