Originally posted on the IEAM blog on 25 July 2017
Welcome to the 2nd post in our series of updates from the SETAC Europe Annual Meeting held in Brussels, Belgium from 7-11 May 2017. After this post we will have two more updates that will be online in the next couple weeks. Enjoy!
Are pesticides hurting pollinators?
The widespread loss of honeybee populations in Europe and the reduced numbers of wild bees in other countries sparked concern among scientists, policymakers, and farmers all across the world. Recent research conducted on historical field data found a potential connection between the use of certain insecticides and changes in wild bee populations. This was especially true for species that are known to visit flowering crops like oil seed rape.
While scientists have been looking in detail at how pesticides might be harmful to bees, there are still many questions on how to find the balance between protecting crops while ensuring the protection of bees and other pollinators. Managing both pesticide usage while mediating risks on wildlife populations continues to challenge scientists and policymakers.
Risk assessment is the primary tool that scientists use to address this challenge. A risk assessment is an evidence-based process that determines 1) how much of a toxic chemical can be found in a specific environment (the soil, water, or air) and how much an animal or person can come in contact with that chemical (called ‘exposure’), 2) how toxic the chemical is to an animal or person (hazard), and 3) the quantitative relationship between the two (risk). The three answers are used to calculate the risk a chemical poses in the environment.
In conducting bee and pollinator risk assessments, scientists are focused on logistical problems such as experimental set up, how much of a chemical a given pollinator will come in contact with, and determining the total toxicity of all of the pesticides currently in use. At the session “New developments in ecotoxicology for the risk assessment of single and multiple stressors in insect pollinators: From the laboratory to the real world” held at the SETAC Brussels meeting, scientists highlighted new findings that can help policy makers choose the best course of action to ensure that pollinators are protected when pesticides are used.
New findings on the impacts of pesticides to pollinators
Are all pollinators affected by pesticides in the same way?
To test whether different bee species respond to pesticides in the same way, David Spurgeon from the Center for Ecology and Hydrology exposed three bee species to several commercial pesticides and compared their responses. He exposed the European honeybee (Apis mellifera), the buff-tailed honeybee (Bombus terrestris), and the red mason bee (Osmia bicornis) to pesticides through their food and compared survival rates. Spurgeon and his group found that pesticide toxicity increased over time in all three species. This has implications for how scientists conduct regulatory toxicity tests on bees in the lab, and Spurgeon commented that scientists cannot rely on a single time point when trying to determine the overall risk from chemical exposure. This is especially relevant, he said, if the bees come in contact with the pesticide on a frequent and long-term basis.
Philipp Uhl from the University of Koblenz-Landau determined the toxicities of several pesticides and compared results between the European honeybee and the red mason bee. Because the European honeybee is the main test species for pesticide risk assessments in Europe, scientists are concerned that using only one pollinator species will make it difficult to accurately determine the risk to other species that may be more or less sensitive. Uhl found that the European honeybee was either more sensitive or had a similar sensitivity profile than the red mason to six of the tested pesticides. This means that using the European honeybee data to complete the risk assessments for these pesticides would be protective for other pollinator species. But for one set of pesticides, the European honeybee was less sensitive, and for certain pesticides there was a 100-times difference between the two species. Any risk assessments conducted using data generated from the honeybee would not provide results that would be protective to other species for these pesticides. Uhl concluded that these species-specific differences in chemical sensitivity should motivate scientists and policymakers to find better ways to test the most relevant species. Uhl commented that this data also indicates how chemicals should be used and what species of bees may be the first ones to be affected.
How do we design experiments to more accurately determine the effects of pesticides?
Natalie Ruddle from Syngenta discussed the importance of experimental design for evaluating toxicity in species other than the European honeybee. Ruddle presented a field study that was designed to determine the impacts of a neonicotinoid (thiamethoxam) on the red mason bee. Since this pollinator is a solitary bee and does not have a central hive nor a queen, Ruddle and her collaborators worked to develop a field method that can measure the reproductive capacity of individual females. Their field setup relied on the use of long half-dome greenhouses where plants and bees were housed together (known as a “tunnel design”). While no negative effects were seen in the red mason bee when they were housed with pesticide-treated oilseed rape plants, Ruddle highlighted the continued challenges of designing these types of field experiments for solitary bee species, noting the need for consensus on how to set up such experiments.
Stefan Kimmel from Innovative Environmental Services, Ltd. discussed the dynamics of how bees are exposed to pesticides in an open field, also using the solitary red mason bee and pesticide-treated oilseed rape plants. Kimmel and colleagues sampled pollinators before and after pesticide application and looked at the amount of pesticides in the flower buds, pollen, nectar, the bee foragers themselves and the hive entrance. Kimmel found that there was a gradient in pesticide concentration, with higher levels in crops and lower but detectable levels found in the nesting sites.
At the end of the session, presenters and audience members discussed the current and future needs for pesticides and pollinators based on EU regulations. While tests conducted in open fields are not currently accepted by regulators, due to concerns about competing crops, Kimmel commented that there are advantages of open-field techniques because the setting more accurately represents how pollinators can become exposed to pesticides and avoids the potential for any harm caused by tunnel confinement.
What’s next for pollinators?
We still have a lot to learn about how bees and pollinators are impacted by pesticide use. But thanks to a better scientific understanding of the risks that pesticides can have on bees in agricultural settings, scientists and policymakers are working together, now more than ever before, on empirical and creative ways to address this global problem.
The latest science presented at the SETAC Brussels meeting highlights how researchers, government institutions, regulators, and agrochemical companies are working together to find the best ways to protect pollinators. SETAC will also continue to be a place for scientists to work together with the Pollinators interest group now being developed within SETAC.
Originally posted on the SETAC IEAM Blog on 17 July 2017
We are finally kicking off the SETAC Brussels summary series! This post is the first of four highlights of research presented at the SETAC Europe Annual Meeting in Brussels, Belgium (7-11 May 2017). Each post features the latest research findings from SETAC scientists on emerging topics of interest. Enjoy!
Why does oceans health matter?
Oceans provide more for us than just the backdrop of our annual summer holidays—they provide food and medicine, help connect people and provide a means to deliver materials across the world, are a source of economic growth for coastal communities, and help moderate climate change. But our strong connection to the marine environment also comes with some drawbacks. Seafood contamination, marine pollution, biological hazards such as red tides and antimicrobial resistance (AMR), and rising sea levels are just a few of the examples of how our own health is closely linked to that of our environment.
A new and rapidly expanding field of research called Oceans and Human Health (OHH) examines the connections between our health and the health of marine environments. This work includes looking at both the benefits and the risks to people and how our actions can influence the health of marine ecosystems. The theme of OHH was prevalent at this year’s SETAC Brussels meeting, where a common theme of keynote and platform presentations was the interconnections between environmental science and human health.
“This area of research is very strategically important for the world, and very important for SETAC as an organization, to move into.” said Colin Janssen, one of the co-chairs of the OHH session. “SETAC researchers are now beginning to focus more on the marine environment, as we are recognizing more and more that human health is not isolated from the environment’s health.” A discussion around the theme was kicked off at the Opening Keynote Presentation by Lora Fleming (University of Exeter) and was followed by a series of platform and poster presentations.
The science that connects oceans and human health
Lora Fleming presented her collaborative work on red tide events in the state of Florida, in the US. Red tide is caused by microscopic algae (Karenia brevis) that release neurotoxins as aerosols, which are then transmitted by air and wind. Large outbreaks in Southwestern Florida were responsible for the deaths of many endangered Florida manatee and dolphin populations.
One significant result from this work was the finding that dolphins had eaten fish with trace amounts of red tide neurotoxin. Since dolphins do not eat dead fish, and it was previously thought that fish consumption did not confer a risk to neurotoxin exposure, these findings provided new evidence of the risks of consuming fish during red tide events. Fleming’s research team provided the evidence needed to change existing policies for red tide event management in order to better protect both marine and human health.
The human health impacts of red tide events could also be seen beyond the beach where direct exposure occurs. Fleming and her team found that red tide outbreaks were linked to increases in emergency room visits and exacerbated breathing problems for people with respiratory conditions such as asthma. Fleming’s work highlights the pervasive nature of red tide events, providing a better understanding of how people are affected by the health of the marine environment.
Maarten de Rijcke from Ghent University later presented results of a study focused on red tide pollution in the North Sea. Rijcke and his team placed caged mussels at a coastal sluice dock and looked for algal bloom neurotoxins in the mussels. Researchers found a complex mixture of toxins present in the mussels after only 15 days, and several of the neurotoxins they found had unknown toxicities. Rijcke highlighted the importance for looking at algal bloom toxins levels in economically important species, as well as looking at toxins more broadly, instead of only focusing on neurotoxins of known toxicities. He stated that chemicals which are not regularly monitored—or for which no toxicity data exist—might still have a negative impact on human health, and that these should be assessed when possible.
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in surfers
Anne Leonard, University of Exeter, presented research on how antibiotic resistance spreads through coastal environments. Coastal areas are strongly impacted by human activities, including run-off from agricultural fields and wastewater treatment plants, and are also a place that people have the most physical contact with the ocean.
Leonard collected coastal water samples and counted the numbers of Escherichia coli that could produce a protein that is able to provide resistance to several antibiotics. Leonard then conducted a survey of surfers compared to non-surfers to see if there was a connection between time spent in the ocean and the presence of drug-resistant E. coli. Volunteers provided rectal swabs and filled in questionnaires as part of the Beach Bum survey.
Data from the Beach Bum study shows that surfers were four times more likely to be colonized by drug-resistant E. coli when compared to people who did not surf. While there appeared to be no direct risk from the E. coli on this healthy population of surfers, Leonard commented that their presence in a healthy population means they can easily spread to more difficult-to-treat and sensitive patients. This research also shows that coastal recreational and occupational exposure to microbes might be a significant route of AMR transmission.
The benefits of interacting with the oceans
leming shifted the tone of the platform presentations to focus on the benefits gained through positive interactions with marine environments. She presented results from scientific surveys, interviews, and controlled experiments in the UK. Benefits include better health reported in people who live close to the ocean or other bodies of water, with the strongest effects seen in poorer communities. Her group also found a reported reduction in stress and an increase in physical activity after people visited coastal areas. Researchers also found that people who visited marine areas reported increased interactions among family members and had increased vitamin D levels. Fleming and her group are now working to understand and consolidate the benefits of “blue gyms” in the UK, findings which consistently demonstrate positive benefits from interactions with healthy marine environments.
What’s next for the field of oceans and human health?
A number of research projects across Europe and the United States will continue to conduct research on the connections between oceans and human health. These research projects are also looking to foster connections with other fields such as economics, psychology, and science communication. Learn more about these initiatives in the EU by visiting the Horizon 2020 Blue Health web page and the SeaChange ocean literacy project.
“If we can show that oceans really are valuable, in an economic sense as well as a public health sense, and that healthy ecosystems are good for our own health and well-being, we can promote more pro-environmental behavior in people.” said Fleming. “I hope that researchers in toxicology and public health will continue to take this topic forward as a truly transdisciplinary field. That we can value and treat our world better and own what we do to the environment in a positive way.”
The strategic graduate student
An early career researcher faces a lot of pressures within the academic research environment. We’re expected to work hard and put in long hours on experiments and data analysis, under the idea that more output (or, in our case, more data) will inevitably lead to more papers and more opportunities. Hard work is a crucial aspect of success in graduate school, but what’s sometimes not as clear, especially in the early periods of our research careers, is how to work smart.
Working smart means being strategic with time: set goals, plan ahead, and adapt as needed. But how exactly can we learn to become more strategic in our work? It’s one thing to design a flawless plan of experiments and analyses in great detail…but what about when an unexpected results offers new insights or inspires different experiments? With an endless array of tasks, distractions, and the all-enveloping feeling like we have to be doing something at any given point in time, how can we clearly see and decide on the most valuable course of action at any given moment?
I’ve been interested in answering this question both in a broad sense as well as for my own work-life balance. And while I’ve had wonderful mentors, coaches, and bosses who have taught me how to prioritize my current work while visualizing the future, I also like to find inspiration from other sources. My reading hobby typically leads me towards history books, in part as a break from reading about science but also as a source of awe-inspiring stories. It’s incredible how often the lives of the great men and women of history were defined by how they made pivotal strategic decisions or how a single idea changed the entire course of history.
One of my recent such reads was Robert Greene’s “The 33 Strategies of War”. Greene’s book offers insights on how you can make your own career, or even your entire life, more strategic. The book is interwoven with stories from history highlighting the 33 concepts described in great detail in his book. If you’re not a military history aficionado, there are also a number of stories about politicians, business leaders, and even artists who fought in their own sort of ‘wars’ as they worked to bring their goals and ideas to life.
Highlights from “The 33 Strategies of War”
Greene’s book is not a practical ‘How to make war’ type of book. It instead focuses more on the psychology of conflict and how to approach these situations with a rational and strategic mind. One of the most important facets of good strategy is to have a wide perspective of your situation. In the case of research, you should thoroughly understand the problems that your field is working to solve and the possible solutions:
“To have the power that only strategy can bring, you must be able to elevate yourself above the battlefield, to focus on your long-term objectives, to craft an entire campaign, to get out of the reactive mode that so many battles in life lock you into.”
“The essence of strategy is not to carry out a brilliant plan that proceeds in steps: it is to put yourself in situations where you have more options than the enemy does. Instead of grasping at Option A as the single right answer, true strategy is positioning yourself to be able to do A, B, or C depending on the circumstances. This is strategic depth of thinking, as opposed to formulaic thinking.”
Greene also stresses the importance of acting on the plans you make while being flexible to changing situations. While strategy is the “art of commanding the entire military operation”, tactics refers to the “skill of forming up the army for battle itself and dealing with the immediate needs of the battlefield.”
You can think of strategy as the plans you draw up for the experiments you need complete for your dissertation and tactics as the action you take if you find out that one of those experiments was already done by another lab or is no longer needed because another paper refuted the hypothesis. And regardless of how well you plan, you must also be ready to work hard and to learn from any mistakes you make. As Greene said: “What you know must transfer into action, and action must translate into knowledge.”
Greene’s book discusses how to use both victory and defeat to your advantage. Both victory and defeat are temporary, says Greene, because what matters is what you do with the lessons you gain from each encounter. If you win, don’t become blinded by your own success but keep working hard and moving forward. If you lose, envision your loss as a temporary setback and use the lessons learned to plant the seeds of future victory.
Greene also talks extensively about the way that emotions can cause you to make ill-informed decisions. This is especially true for academics and young researchers, where the pressures to work hard and publish can lead many to mental health problems or simply finding themselves burned out from exhaustion. Many of the stories in 33 Strategies of War show how people extricated themselves from difficult situations and provide hope for the rest of us that anyone can make it through any type of challenge we might face:
“Fear will make you overestimate the enemy and act too defensively. Anger and impatience will draw you into rash actions that will cut off your options.”
To become a strategic student, start by waging a war against yourself
Greene’s book goes into great detail on the many facets of war, including offensive and defensive tactics as well as methods for psychological warfare. What I found the most resonant, especially for early career researchers, were the discussions around internal warfare: ‘declaring war on yourself’ in order to progress and move forward. Greene also focuses on the importance of self-confidence and having a positive mindset—a topic we discussed earlier this spring.
One of the most striking personal stories in this section is about General George S. Patton, the famous WWII general who was instrumental in leading the Allies to victory. But before he was a WWII general, he found himself commanding a small contingent of tanks in France during WWI. At one point his unit ended up trapped, their retreat back to base blocked and the only way forward through enemy lines. He found himself terrified to the point of being unable to move or speak. In the end he was able to muster enough courage and stride forward, but the moment left a mark on Patton. He made a habit of putting himself into dangerous situations more regularly, to face that which he feared in order to become less afraid of the situation.
This is one of my favorite stories from 33 Strategies of War. It not only shows us the human side of a great general from modern history, but it also shows us the importance of facing our fears. There are many unknowns, uncertainties, and even fears we face in our own work: what if we get something wrong, what if an experiment fails, what if we don’t win that grant or fellowship. But putting ourselves into challenging situations is part of how we progress. Facing and embracing what we fear helps us move forward and lessens our anxiety surrounding failure.
Another important consideration for graduate students and early career researchers is the importance of taking time away from our work. We’ve discussed the importance of breaks and time away from the lab to give us perspective on our work and refresh our minds, and Greene also highlights this as a strategic move:
“If you are always advancing, always attacking, always responding to people emotionally, you have no time to gain perspectives.”
Through these opening chapters, Greene explores this internal war and how we can develop a warrior’s heart and mindset. Instead of summarizing the chapter in great detail, I’ve highlighted are a few of my favorite quotes from this part of his book:
“He (the warrior) must beat off these attacks he delivers against himself, and cast out the doubts born of failure. Forget them, and remember only the lessons to be learned from defeat—they are worth more than from victory”
(About your presence of mind): “You must actively resist the emotional pull of the moment, staying decisive, confident, and aggressive no matter what hits you.”
(On being mentally prepared for ‘war’): “When a crisis does come, your mind will already be calm and prepared. Once presence of mind becomes a habit, it will never abandon you.” and “The more you have lost your balance, the more you will know about how to right yourself.”
(About keeping an open mind): “Clearing your head of everything you thought you knew, even your most cherished ideas, will give you the mental space to be educated by your present experience.”
(About self-confidence): “Our greatest weakness is losing heart, doubting ourselves, becoming unnecessarily cautious. Being more careful is not what we need; that is just a screen for our fear of conflict and of making a mistake. What we need is double the resolve—an intensification of confidence.”
(On moving forward): “When something goes wrong, look deep into yourself—not in an emotional way, to blame yourself or indulge your feeling of guilt, but to make sure that you start your next campaign with a firmer step and greater vision.”
I’ve learned a lot from mentors and colleagues throughout my career, but I also enjoy looking for inspiration outside of my normal work environment. Greene’s book “The 33 Strategies of War” provides great inspiration in the form of quotes, advice, and stories from history for approaching life strategically and rationally. Greene’s book is also very grounded and realistic in its approach, and he encourages us to do the same:
“While others may find beauty in endless dreams, warriors find it in reality, in awareness of limits, in making the most of what they have.”
Whether we are focused on our own research projects, maneuvering into the world in search of fulfilling work, or just going through our day-to-day lives outside of work, we will encounter different types of battles. Greene’s book focuses on the importance of goals in waging this war, whether they are personal or professional:
“Do not think about either your solid goals or your wishful dreams, and do not plan out your strategy on paper. Instead, think deeply about what you have—the tools and materials you will be working with. Ground yourself not in dreams and plans but in reality: think of your own skills or advantages.”
“Think of it as finding your level—a perfect balance between what you are capable of and the task at hand. When the job you are doing is neither above nor below your talents but at your level, you are neither exhausted nor bored and depressed.”
How we approach them depends on our own strategy, but we can all face them with courage and strength by adopting a warrior’s approach to facing conflict. Greene’s discussion about internal warfare might be one of the books’ most relevant sections for graduate students. There are numerous quotes in this book and it’s difficult to highlight all of the great advice discussed in just one blog post, but to close off the post, here is a post on the importance of having a warrior’s heart:
“It is not numbers or strength that bring victory in war but whichever army goes into battle stronger in soul, their enemies generally cannot withstand them.”