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Manganese turns honeybees into bumbling foragers

Small doses of the heavy metal alter insects’ behavior

8:15pm, March 24, 2015

FIT TO FORAGE?  Small amounts of manganese can interfere with honeybee foraging, a new study finds, making them take longer food-gathering journeys and finish fewer trips than healthy insects.

A heavy metal pollutant muddles honeybee behavior. Just a small dose of manganese boosts certain brain chemicals and makes bees inept foragers, researchers report online March 25 in Biology Letters.

Scientists knew that the metal is toxic in high amounts. The results show that even low levels considered safe for people impact the pollinators, says coauthor Yehuda Ben-Shahar, a geneticist at Washington University in St. Louis.

Manganese is used in making steel, matchsticks and batteries. Pollution from these industries may allow manganese to accumulate in the flowers that bees pollinate. As the bees carry more and more nectar back to the colony, the trace metal can build up in the hive.

To see how the mineral may impact honeybees (Apis mellifera), Ben-Shahar and his colleagues fed the insects manganese over four days. The team tested the bees’ brains for

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