Imidacloprid — a neonicotinoid pesticide that the US Environmental Protection Agency says can be harmful to bees — is a threat to the survival of bats, a research team said.
The team, headed by National Taiwan Normal University professor of life sciences Wu Chung-hsin (吳忠信) found that bats feeding on imidacloprid-tainted insects were unable to fly along learned paths and often got lost while hunting.
With Formosan leafnosed bats as their experimental subject, the team found that animals treated with a low dose of imidacloprid developed neural apopotosis — a process of programmed cell death — in the brain, Wu said.
Photo: Liao Chen-huei, Taipei Times
“The sonogram of ultrasounds emitted by such bats becomes incomplete,” Wu said on Wednesday, discussing research published in April last year in Neuroreport, a peer-reviewed journal of neuroscience.
Wu said his team monitored sonograms with a customized flight tracking device and filmed light trails from LEDs attached to the bats.
The data indicated that after long-term exposure to imidacloprid, their flight patterns differed from paths they had learned.
“What were regular flight paths become disoriented,” Wu said, adding that “some even lost their ability to catch insects.”
The team found that the toxicity of imidacloprid and high doses of the heavy metal manganese accumulated in the bodies of bats if they fed on pesticide-tainted insects.
“When toxic substances accumulate to a certain level, they damage the bats’ neurons and destroy their echolocation system,” said Wu, whose team has researched the echolocation ability of bats in Taiwan for more than 20 years.
Wu said that the team has recorded a decline in bat populations across Taiwan in recent years, speculating that the phenomenon could be the result of various environmental pollutants.
Bats serve as a “bio-index,” allowing people to determine which toxic substances are poisoning the environment, Wu said, adding that he hoped the research would alert people to the dangers of pollution.
He said that people should reduce the use of pesticides, curb pollution and learn to live more harmoniously with nature.
Imidacloprid is a broad-spectrum insecticide that works by interfering with the nerve impulses of insects, killing them. It is used to control pests on a large number of agricultural crops.
In recent years there have been reports that suggest neonicotinoid pesticides, including imidacloprid, are the cause of bees dying, hives collapsing and plummeting bee populations worldwide.
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