Bug Blog

Aluminum in Environment May Harm More Than Humans

Aluminum in Environment May Harm More Than Humans

It penetrates our environment through acid rain, brought about by burning fossil fuels.  Intensive agriculture also produces it.  Aluminum has been shown to be one of the most toxic metals that exists today.  Its prevalence in our environment has been theorized to contribute to Alzheimer’s disease, and a new study suggests bees may be impacted, too.

Bee decline has recently been extensively studied because of their rapid decline, and due to the importance of bees to human life.  Without these pollinators, up to a third of our food supply could vanish.

The recent study was conducted in May, 2013, and published in the Public Library of Science (PLoS ONE), and indicates that the cognitive functions of bees may be damaged by exposure to aluminum.  Researchers used bumblebee colonies in England, setting them up in urban and farm areas, then studied the bees for levels of aluminum in their bodies.

Results showed that both adults and larvae carried high levels of aluminum.  In adults, the levels were 4.6 and 15.5 mg/g of dry weight; in larvae the mean dry weight was 51.0 mg/g.

“Bees rely heavily on cognitive performance to navigate in their environment,” the researchers wrote. “The observation here that the aluminum content of bumblebee pupae is an order of magnitude (or more) higher than levels harmful to humans gives cause for concern.”