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Flower-visiting insects in Europe: Evaluating the environmental consequences of agricultural pesticide use in the context of risk assessment

  • The European landscape is dominated by intensive agriculture which leads to widespread impact on the environment. The frequent use of agricultural pesticides is one of the major causes of an ongoing decline in flower-visiting insects (FVIs). The conservation of this ecologically diverse assemblage of mobile, flying insect species is required by international and European policy. To counteract the decrease in species numbers and their abundances, FVIs need to be protected from anthropogenic stressors. European pesticide risk assessment was devised to prevent unacceptable adverse consequences of pesticide use on FVIs. However, there is an ongoing discussion by scientists and policy-makers if the current risk assessment actually provides adequate protection for FVI species. The first main objective of this thesis was to investigate pesticide impact on FVI species. The scientific literature was reviewed to identify groups of FVIs, summarize their ecology, and determine their habitat. This was followed by a synthesis of studies about the exposure of FVIs in their habitat and subsequent effects. In addition, the acute sensitivity of one FVI group, bee species, to pesticides was studied in laboratory experiments. The second main objective was to evaluate the European risk assessment for possible deficits and propose improvements to the current framework. Regulatory documents were screened to assess the adequacy of the guidance in place in light of the scientific evidence. The suitability of the honey bee Apis mellifera as the currently only regulatory surrogate species for FVIs was discussed in detail. The available scientific data show that there are far more groups of FVIs than the usually mentioned bees and butterflies. FVIs include many groups of ecologically different species that live in the entire agricultural landscape. Their habitats in crops and adjacent semi-natural areas can be contaminated by pesticides through multiple pathways. Environmentally realistic exposure of these habitats can lead to severe effects on FVI population parameters. The laboratory studies of acute sensitivity in bee species showed that pesticide effects on FVIs can vary greatly between species and pesticides. The follow-up critical evaluation of the European FVI risk assessment revealed major shortcomings in exposure and effect assessment. The honey bee proved to be a sufficient surrogate for bee species in lower tier risk assessment. Additional test species may be chosen for higher tier risk assessment to account for ecological differences. This thesis shows that the ecology of FVIs should generally be considered to a greater extent to improve the regulatory process. Data-driven computational approaches could be used as alternative methods to incorporate ecological trait data in spatio-temporal scenarios. Many open questions need to be answered by further research to better understand FVI species and promote necessary changes to risk assessment. In general, other FVI groups than bees need to be investigated. Furthermore, comprehensive data on FVI groups and their ecology need to be collected. Contamination of FVI habitat needs to be linked to exposure of FVI individuals and ecologically complex effects on FVI populations should receive increased attention. In the long term, European FVI risk assessment would benefit from shifting its general principles towards more scientifically informed regulatory decisions. This would require a paradigm shift from arbitrary assumptions and unnecessarily complicated schemes to a substantiated holistic framework.

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Author:Philipp Uhl
Advisor:Carsten A. Brühl, Martin H. Entling
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Date of completion:2020/02/25
Date of publication:2020/02/26
Publishing institution:Universität Koblenz-Landau, Campus Landau, Universitätsbibliothek
Granting institution:Universität Koblenz-Landau, Campus Landau, Fachbereich 7
Date of final exam:2020/02/14
Release Date:2020/02/26
Tag:Ecotoxicology; Pollinators
Number of pages:165 Seiten
Institutes:Fachbereich 7
Dewey Decimal Classification:5 Naturwissenschaften und Mathematik / 57 Biowissenschaften; Biologie / 577 Ökologie
BKL-Classification:43 Umweltforschung, Umweltschutz
Licence (German):License LogoEs gilt das deutsche Urheberrecht: § 53 UrhG