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Environment: Another silent spring?

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Systemic neocotinoid pesticides are starting to affect bird populations, according to research.

Neonicotinoid use linked with decline in bird populations

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Populations of some insect-eating bird species are declining in areas where scientists measured high concentrations of a widely used neonicotinoid pesticide.

In some cases, bird numbers are dwindling by as much as 3.5 percent annually, according to the new study by researchers with Radboud University in Nijmegen and the Dutch Centre for Field Ornithology and Birdlife Netherlands.

The declines in bird populations didn’t start until the imidacloprid was introduced in Holland in the mid-1990s, and the pattern persisted even when the scientists accounted for other variables, including land use changes known to affect birds.

“Our results suggest that the impact of neonicotinoids on the natural environment is even more substantial than has recently been reported and is reminiscent of the effects of persistent insecticides in the past,” the researchers wrote in the journal Nature.

The reference, of course, is to DDT, once widely used, then banned after nearly wiping out bald eagles and other birds. Environmental advocates have long been warning of the dangers of systemic neonicotinoid pesticides, particularly with regard to bees, and the latest study appears to reinforce those concerns, according to Jonathan Evans, toxics and endangered species campaign director with the Center for Biological Diversity.

“The cascading impacts of these pesticides are poisoning the web of life,” said Jonathan Evans, toxics and endangered species campaign director with the 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.”

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.

“One after another, new studies are revealing the extreme hazards these poisons pose for pollinators and the environment,” said 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.

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