Chemicals Pollinators, Molluscs and Other Invertebrates

2023 April: Chemicals

In this post, I’ll explore some recent stories about pesticides beginning with an update on Ontario’s pesticide regulations.

Ontario Pesticide Ban

Since 2008, Ontario has had a ban on cosmetic use of pesticides, meaning most pesticides are no longer allowed in home gardens. The Act and associated regulations were amended in 2019-2020 so Ontario’s rules are more closely aligned with the federal laws. Before a pesticide (pest control product) can be sold or used in Ontario, it must be registered under the federal Pest Control Products Act (PCP Act). The Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) of Health Canada registers pesticides for use in Canada following an evaluation of scientific data to ensure that any human health and environmental risks associated with its proposed uses are acceptable, and that the products have value. (From OMAFRA page on Using Pesticides in Ontario.)

With the alignment of Ontario regulations to those at the federal level, the way in which Ontario now categorizes pesticides has been streamlined. The new classification system reduces Ontario’s former Classes 1 through 7 to four classes – Class A (manufacturing), Class B (restricted), Class C (commercial) and Class D (domestic). The former Class 12 will be changed to Class E in the Pesticides Regulation, a stand-alone class specific to neonicotinoid-treated seeds. Also, Ontario’s Pesticides Advisory Committee, which used to provide advice to support classification, has been eliminated.

Training, licensing and permitting requirements are established for the new classes of product to help educate farmers and vendors. Previous exemptions to the general cosmetic pesticides ban have been retained, including exemptions for golf courses, forestry, health and safety, etc. However, the former classes 7-11, which were previously used to manage the ban, have been replaced by a single list of allowed pesticides. Cemeteries were added as an excepted use to the cosmetic pesticides ban, but with conditions such as training in Integrated Pest Management and producing an annual report of pesticide use. (Source: Ontario introduces significant amendments to the Pesticides Act and the Pesticides Regulation.)

Ontario Ministry of Energy and Environment offers information Natural ways to manage pests in home gardens, which includes a list of allowable products for homeowners’ use. Incidentally, I came across one wonderful expression of free (but crazy) speech. Pesticide Truths appears to be the brainchild of someone who goes by the handle “UncleAdolph”. I’m sure it’s pure coincidence that Adolph was Hitler’s first name. The site argues forcefully for ending all pesticide bans and features downloadable posters of chubby babies happily playing on pesticide-laced lawns. Great for parents who want their children to suffer developmental delays and risk getting cancer.

So-called ‘safe’ pesticides not so safe

Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

Health Canada is currently reviewing regulations for pesticides in Canada, and three UBC researchers say regulators might want to consider what happened in Japan. A lake in Shimane Prefecture has seen its commercial fishery collapse by more than 90% since 1993, when insecticides known as neonicotinoids were first introduced to the area. It just so happens that zooplankton—the tiny creatures in the water that fish feed on—declined by 83% during the same period. That’s just one example of the unanticipated ripple effects of pesticides uncovered by UBC ecologists Dr. Risa Sargent, Dr. Juli Carrillo and Dr. Claire Kremen in their review of recent science.

They also found concerning research about glyphosates. Use of this weed-killer has increased 100-fold in recent decades. Because it targets an enzyme that exists only in plants, it was thought to be perfectly safe for animals. However, a study last year showed that it alters the mix of bacteria and microbes in bees’ intestines, while also disrupting their ability to keep hives at the optimum temperature.

A third study showed that the use of neonicotinoid in a cornfield produced no increase in corn yields but did depress yields and profits in nearby watermelon fields by 21%. The paper is published in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution.

Bland strawberries could be due to pesticides

Organic strawberries from Rebecca’s community garden. Photo by R. Last.

Have you ever bitten into a plump, red strawberry, only to find it bland and watery? Certain pesticides might be responsible. A team reporting in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry has found that two common strawberry fungicides can impact cellular mechanisms, creating berries with subdued flavor and sweetness, as well as a lower nutritional value.

(See also: Bland strawberries? Blame the pesticides)

Bees’ pesticide risk varies

A researcher carefully collects a pollen sample from a bee. Credit: Daphne Wong.

In a new study, ecologists have shown that bees’ pesticide exposure depends upon their interaction with the environment, meaning different species face different risks in any given environment. According to the ecologists, increased agricultural land surrounding bees increases pesticide-related risk, but only for the solitary bee and bumble bee—species that forage over smaller areas than the honeybee. (Note, honeybees are not native to North America.) In broad terms, these findings support the capacity of semi-natural areas to reduce pesticide risk for wild bees.

Pesticide risk assessment is evolving to capture the ecological complexity of things like species’ different foraging ranges. However, greater understanding is required. This newly published study evidences this at a landscape scale as the ecologists measured pesticide concentrations in different food sources for different bee species in multiple cropping systems. The study was published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Pesticides in pollen and nectar may be hazardous for pollinators

Graphical abstract. Credit: Science of The Total Environment (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2023.162971

In another study from Trinity College, Dublin, researchers found pesticides in flowers not targeted with the chemicals, which could be an additional, underestimated threat to pollinators. “This is the first time that a multi-field survey of pollen and nectar from crops and wild plants has been undertaken in Ireland and is critical to our understanding of pesticide residues in the Irish context,” says Prof. Jane Stout, School of Natural Sciences, Trinity, who co-led the research with Prof. Blánaid White, School of Chemical Sciences, DCU.

The researchers looked for pesticide residues in the nectar and pollen of crop and non-target hedgerow plants. They evaluated a variety of herbicides and fungicides that are commonly used, as well as neonicotinoids that are no longer being used but of which residues may remain for some time. “The research takes place in the context of Ireland reaching the ambitious European Commission target in the Farm to Fork Strategy of reducing the use and risk of chemical pesticides by 50%,” says Prof. White.

Doctoral student Elena Zioga, who was jointly supervised by Prof. White and Prof. Stout, collected thousands of flowers from agricultural fields across Ireland, and carried out her chemical analysis work at the DCU Water Institute. Finding traces of certain neonicotinoids, which are known to threaten pollinators, still lingering despite a 2018 ban by the European Commission “is a worry” said Ms. Zioga, who would like to know the extent of their presence in the environment, and at what concentrations. The researchers also found mixtures of pesticides more often than single compound detections, and this means it is important to understand the impact of these mixes on pollinators and other non-target organisms.

“We need to understand how different compounds move through the environment, and the rate at which these compounds degrade, so that we can understand the extent of their persistence,” said Prof. White. “And we need to know what their long-term effects are on pollinators and other organisms” added Prof. Stout. The paper was published in Science of The Total Environment (2023).

Sustainable Living

Zero Carbon Buildings

Photo credit: © DBPHOTO

Carbon-busting hemp could help transform Scottish agriculture to zero emissions: Hemp is one of the oldest traded plants in the world, and cultivation in Scotland started as far back as the 11th century. Historically, cannabis—the name of the plant from which hemp is derived—was used to produce rope, cloth, lighting oil and medicine from around the year 1000 until the late 1800s. These days hemp is big business in places like North America and France, but the UK has been much slower to embrace this market, with little production going on or infrastructure to support it. However, our new study makes clear the myriad benefits and opportunities this plant provides—including, crucially, the reduction of carbon emissions and its usefulness in helping to mitigate the effects of climate change. Aside from the environmental benefits as “nature’s purifier” in removing carbon dioxide from the air, the crop is an excellent source of plant protein for humans and animals. It also has huge potential for other uses such as organic insecticides/herbicides, an environmentally friendly concrete substitute known as “hempcrete”, building insulation, biofuel and phytoremediation—a process which cleans contaminated soils and water. Our report provides expert recommendations on the necessary steps to advance the Scottish hemp sector, based on trade research, HMRC trade data, interviews with farmers and Mintel’s Global New Products Database. Five benefits associated with hemp products include low or reduced allergens, it’s suitable for vegans, vegetarians, it’s gluten-free and can be grown organically. So it has the potential to be a cost-effective product bringing both health and environmental benefits. [Article includes a 9-minute video of interview with a hemp farmer. See also: A Building Material That Consumes CO2 Has Finally Come to the US.]


November Biodiversity News

Black Canada lynx photographed for the first time: A black-coated Canada lynx was photographed for the first time by a researcher at the University of Alberta, Canada. Thomas Jung, also employed by the Government of Yukon, recorded the animal in a 30 second video on a cell phone. This unique finding is reported in an article, “Paint it black: first record of melanism in Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis),” in the journal Mammalia. The lynx was found on a summer day, August 29, 2020, in a rural residential area near the town of Whitehorse, Yukon, which contains low density housing embedded in mature forest dominated by white spruce. The lynx was viewed from a distance of about 50 meters and was relatively undisturbed by the presence of nearby people and a dog until it left the area, possibly due to the dog’s barking. Coat color in the entire Lynx genus tends to be stable, with little variation within species compared to that of other members of the cat family (felidae). In addition to being the first recorded case of melanism in Lynx canadensisi, this sighting adds to only a small number of coat color variations found in any member of the genus Lynx.

Beneficial and beautiful: Biodiversity of meadows and pastures can be an asset for nature, agriculture, and tourism: In a long-term study, an international team led by INRAE and Senckenberg researchers Dr. Gaëtane Le Provost and Dr. Peter Manning has demonstrated the importance of grassland biodiversity for a wide range of ecosystem services and various stakeholder groups. The study, published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, is the first to expand the view to a total of 16 ecosystem services—from ecological to cultural—and to examine the biodiversity of agricultural meadows and pastures on a large scale. The researchers show that a high plant diversity can benefit local actors—from tourism to agriculture. Where species-rich meadows provide habitat for bees and other insects, ecosystem services such as pollination or natural pest control offer benefits not only to nature but to agriculture as well. But what about less obvious ecosystem services provided by organisms below ground that affect soil quality? And exactly how does a high biodiversity affect the experience of nature, which also plays an important role in local tourism as a leisure activity and recreational opportunity? To gain a comprehensive picture of these biodiversity dynamics, an international research team led by Dr. Gaëtane Le Provost and Dr. Peter Manning from the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Center in Frankfurt studied agricultural meadows and pastures in various rural regions in Germany. In the process, they evaluated data that were collected continuously since 2006 as part of the “Biodiversity Exploratories” project for areas in the Swabian Alb, the Hainich-Dün region of central Germany, and the Schorfheide-Chorin Biosphere Reserve in Brandenburg. “The areas differ in climate and topography and at the same time serve as examples for different types of typical grassland use in Central Europe,” explains Le Provost. “We found that, without exception, all of the groups surveyed could benefit from a high level of biodiversity—from local residents to the tourism industry,” reports Sophie Peter, a research associate at the ISOE. Lastly, the research team was able to demonstrate the benefits of high plant diversity not only for smaller areas but considered the biodiversity dynamics in relation to the larger environment.

Alimentation et agriculture

Les vendeurs de fruits américains se tournent vers le Canada

Les vendeurs de fruits américains se tournent vers le Canada pour la production de baies dans un contexte de sécheresse et d’augmentation des coûts : Les vendeurs de fruits américains regardent vers le nord, vers le Canada, alors que de graves sécheresses et des pénuries d’eau continuent de faire des ravages sur les cultures en Californie, le plus grand État agricole.

Le géant américain des petits fruits Driscoll’s s’est associé à Sébastien Dugré, copropriétaire de Massé Nursery à Saint-Paul-d’Abbotsford, au Québec, pour tester si la production commerciale de mûres et de framboises est viable dans la province. Le climat plus froid du Québec peut limiter les cultures de baies, alors les cultiver à plus grande échelle est inhabituel pour cette partie du Canada.

Dugré a commencé les essais l’année dernière et a pu récolter près de 80 tonnes de fruits cette année. “Il y a certainement une courbe d’apprentissage. L’année dernière a été difficile, cette année est bien meilleure, nous avons de meilleurs fruits”, a-t-il déclaré. Dugré utilise des tunnels en forme de dôme pour protéger les plantes de la pluie, tout en créant un microclimat plus chaud pour les plantes. Tout cela l’aide à commencer plus tôt au printemps et à terminer plus tard à l’automne, prolongeant ainsi la saison de croissance.

Climate Change Food & Agriculture

Berries in Canada

U.S. fruit sellers look to Canada for berry production amid drought, rising costs: As climate change makes traditional growing areas like California more costly, producers are looking north.

American berry giant Driscoll’s has partnered with Sébastien Dugré, co-owner of Massé Nursery in Saint-Paul-d’Abbotsford, Que., to test whether commercial production of blackberries and raspberries is viable in the province. Quebec’s colder climate can limit berry crops, so growing them on a larger scale is unusual for that part of Canada. Dugré started the trials last year, and was able to harvest almost 80 tonnes of fruit this year.

“There’s definitely a learning curve. Last year was rough, this year is way better, we’ve got better fruit,” he said. Dugré is using dome-like tunnels to protect the plants from rain, while creating a microclimate that is warmer for the plants. It all helps him to start earlier in the spring and end later in the fall, extending the growing season. “There’s big companies interested in doing business in Canada … to me that’s a good opportunity,” said Dugré.