Assessing the Effects of Neonicotinoid Treatments on Pumpkin on Bee Visitation and Pathogen Transmission

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2019: $11,435.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2020
Grant Recipient: The Pennsylvania State University
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Margarita Lopez-Uribe
Penn State University

Information Products


  • Vegetables: Pumpkin/Squash
  • Animals: bees


  • Crop Production: pollinator habitat, pollinator health

    Proposal abstract:

    Bees are crucial for the pollination of many agricultural crops and wild plants alike. Their decline has brought up concerns about bee health as insufficient pollination directly impacts crop yields and reduces economic gain for farmers. The use of neonicotinoids has been identified as one of the drivers of bee population decline worldwide. However, these systemic pesticides are widely used in several crops in the US because of their effectiveness for pest control. Management of agricultural land in order to promote the presence of bees that provide sufficient pollination services to crops, requires knowing the effects of pest management choices on bee health. The purpose of this project is to understand how neonicotinoid use modifies bumble bee foraging behavior and pathogen transmission between bees in pumpkin fields that have different pesticide management practices. To do so, we will set up greenhouse and field experiments to quantify pathogens present on pumpkin flowers that have been treated and untreated with neonicotinoid insecticides. This project will provide critical information to determine previously unidentified effects of neonicotinoids on wild bee health. These results can be incorporated by farmers into their management decisions to help support healthier pollinator populations and ensure sustainability and higher crop yields.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    We aim to understand the impacts of neonicotinoid treatments of pumpkin plants on foraging behavior and pathogen transmission in bumble bees by addressing the following specific questions:

    1. Do bumble bees forage longer on flowers that have been treated with neonicotinoids? If so, do longer visits impact their survival? We hypothesize that bumble bees will forage longer on neonicotinoid treated plants and will have a shorter lifespan than bumble bees that forage on pesticide free flowers.

    2. Do longer foraging visits lead to more pathogens left behind on pumpkin flowers? If so, do longer visits to neonicotinoid treated flowers lead to more pathogens on flowers? We hypothesize that pathogen load increases as bees spend more time foraging on the flowers.

    3. Are pathogen loads on pumpkin flowers variable between organic and conventional pumpkin farms? We hypothesize that the pathogen loads will be higher in farms that use neonicotinoids for pest management than farms that use organic approaches.

    These questions will be addressed through greenhouse and field experiments. We will submit a report to each of our farmer partners about the results of this research to inform them about the health status of the bumble bee populations pollinating their pumpkin fields.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.