OPEN PloS one | 5 Jun 2015
C Exley, E Rotheray and D Goulson
The causes of declines in bees and other pollinators remains an on-going debate. While recent attention has focussed upon pesticides, other environmental pollutants have largely been ignored. Aluminium is the most significant environmental contaminant of recent times and we speculated that it could be a factor in pollinator decline. Herein we have measured the content of aluminium in bumblebee pupae taken from naturally foraging colonies in the UK. Individual pupae were acid-digested in a microwave oven and their aluminium content determined using transversely heated graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrometry. Pupae were heavily contaminated with aluminium giving values between 13.4 and 193.4 μg/g dry wt. and a mean (SD) value of 51.0 (33.0) μg/g dry wt. for the 72 pupae tested. Mean aluminium content was shown to be a significant negative predictor of average pupal weight in colonies. While no other statistically significant relationships were found relating aluminium to bee or colony health, the actual content of aluminium in pupae are extremely high and demonstrate significant exposure to aluminium. Bees rely heavily on cognitive function and aluminium is a known neurotoxin with links, for example, to Alzheimer’s disease in humans. The significant contamination of bumblebee pupae by aluminium raises the intriguing spectre of cognitive dysfunction playing a role in their population decline.
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