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Berry Brosi featured in UW News on new research showing that food crop antibiotics affect bumblebee behavior

Wednesday, March 2, 2022 - 11:30

Berry Brosi, UW Biology Associate Professor, was recently featured in UW News for research done in collaboration with Emory University on bumblebees. The research report that an antibiotic sprayed on orchard crops to combat bacterial diseases slows the cognition of bumblebees and reduces their foraging efficiency. The study, published Feb. 9 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, focused on streptomycin, an antibiotic used increasingly in U.S. agriculture during the past decade.

“No one has examined the potential impacts on pollinators of broadcast spraying of antibiotics in agriculture, despite their widespread use,” said lead author Laura Avila, a postdoctoral researcher at Emory University.

The team tested how the common eastern bumblebee, Bombus impatiens, responds when its food is dosed with streptomycin. They fed an experimental group of bees a diet of sugar water dosed with streptomycin, while a control group received sugar water. Research has not established the level of streptomycin wild bumblebees receive when they forage crops sprayed with the antibiotic. But the dose that the team tested — 200 parts per million — is likely the highest that bees receive through their diet of floral nectar, based on estimates of the concentration of streptomycin sprayed on crops and the frequency of spraying.

“This paper is a first step towards understanding whether the use of antibiotics on food crops may be taking a toll on pollinators that benefit agriculture,” said senior author Berry Brosi, who began this study while a faculty member at Emory University and has been an associate professor of biology at the UW since 2020.

Read the full story in UW News.

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