Bee Ecotoxicology

  • Fera has the research expertise and scientific resources to help you test products for their effects on pollinator survival, development and behaviour, enabling you to develop products that are safe for bees and other pollinators.
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Bee Ecotoxicology

Bees provide a host of ecosystem services; most importantly they are key pollinators of agricultural crops and wild plants. In addition to this honey bees also provide products such as honey, wax, pollen, propolis, royal jelly and venom. The EFSA Guidance Document of 2013 (revised 2014) proposed a tiered risk assessment scheme including non-Apis species (Bombus spp. (Bumble bees) and solitary bees) as well as honey bees (Apis mellifera).

Commission Regulations (EU) No 283 /2013 and 284/2013 (data requirements for active substances and Plant Protection Products (PPPs) respectively) include a requirement for data on chronic adult bee and brood toxicity, if bees are likely to be exposed during use. These data requirements are applicable for the renewal of the approval of active substances under Regulation (EU) No 844/2012 and for the approval of active substances under Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009. Therefore, receiving authorities will expect to see these data.

Honey can potentially contain residues of PPPs and residues can sometimes be detected in honey during residue monitoring. It is therefore appropriate to establish safe Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) for consumers. The MRLs for honey have historically been set at a default level of 0.05 mg/kg. European data requirements (Regulation (EU) No 283/2013, Annex 6.10) require studies on residues in pollen and bee products for human consumption, new technical guidelines (SANTE/11956/2016 rev.9) for determining the magnitude of pesticide residue in honey and setting maximum residue levels in honey is being implemented in January 2020.

From standard laboratory studies to bespoke higher tier studies to address specific risk assessment needs, our experts at Fera are perfectly placed to meet any data requirements to help our partners develop products that are safe for bees and other pollinators.

We work closely and are co-located with the National Bee Unit and have 150 colonies of honey bees alongside a highly skilled bee keeping team on site to support our partner’s risk assessments.  

  • Range of proven laboratory tests to assess product toxicity to bees
  • Field studies to assess impacts on bees under tunnel & open-field conditions
  • Bespoke tests designed to address specific requirements
  • Access to resources and expertise of National Bee Unit

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Case Study

Read our case study on Radio Frequency IDentification tagging - field experiment on bees

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Our research expertise and scientific resources can help you to test your plant-protection products for their effects on bee survival, development and behaviour – helping you to develop products that are safe for bees and other pollinators. We work closely with the National Bee Unit, giving us access to a huge range of resources to support your risk assessments, including more than 150 colonies of honey bees and a highly skilled beekeeping team. 

Our Services

The tests detailed below demonstrate some of our capabilities. We will work with you to select the appropriate tests to meet the specific needs of your project. We can perform all of the necessary residue analysis for these studies, from testing dosing solutions to analysing complex hive matrices. If you have a specific testing requirement or problem that needs addressing, we can adapt our methods or design bespoke tests to provide the data, analysis and reports you need.

Laboratory tests:

Adult bee acute toxicity

First tier tests designed to look at the worst case scenario via the two main routes of exposure: ingestion and direct contact. These tests are short term and are designed to generate LD50 and LOEC or NOEC values. Honey bee tests are according to the OECD Guidelines 213 & 214: Honey bees Acute Oral & Contact Toxicity Tests. We also test bumble bees according to OECD Test guidelines 246 and 246 Bumble Bee Acute Contact & Oral Toxicity. Unlike honey bees we are not restricted to testing during the beekeeping season – bumble bee laboratory tests can be performed earlier and later in the year.

Adult honey bees - chronic toxicity

Cage tests designed to assess possible longer-term effects of feeding on PPPs to honey bees. Test units of bees are dosed with a treated sucrose solution over a 10 day period; the feed uptake per day is calculated to determine the daily dose of the test item (according to OECD Test Guideline 245: Honey bee (Apismellifera L.), chronic oral toxicity test(10 day feeding test in the laboratory)2016. (Accepted in April 2016 at the OECD National Representatives meeting).

In vitro honey bee larval toxicity

These tests assess the toxic effects of PPPs on honey bee larvae. The larvae are grafted from healthy colonies into artificial cells where they are fed an artificial diet(royal jelly and sugars) and reared in the laboratory. The test item is combined with the feed and fed directly to the larvae. These tests can be run as a single dose test or with repeated dosing (OECD Test Guideline 237: Honey bee larval toxicity test – Single exposure and OECD Guidance Document 239 Honey bee larval toxicity test – Repeated exposure).

Aged-residue tests (extended laboratory test)

This test is designed to assess the toxicity of residues of PPPs on plant material post application. Test item applications are made to a crop and are aged on the crop. The crop is collected at different time points and bees are exposed to the foliage. This test is performed according to EPA OCSPP850.3030: Honey Bee Toxicity of Residues on Foliage.

Bee metabolism studies

Fera has recently been developing protocols to investigate the honey bee metabolism of PPPs and toxicity of the metabolites to adult bees. These studies rely on our experience with bees backed up with high-end analytical chemistry capabilities on site.

For more information on our laboratory test services please get in touch.

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Semi-field and open field tests

Honey bee brood tests

These tests are run under tunnel conditions using a bee-attractive crop. A single colony is placed into each tunnel. Using photographic methods and bee brood monitoring software the development of different brood stages(eggs, young/old larvae) are monitored for any effects and the brood termination rate calculated (OECD 75: Honey bee brood test under semi-field conditions (tunnel test). Using photographic methods and bee brood monitoring software, it is possible to monitor the effects of PPPs on the development of different brood stages. 

Tests performed according to OECD 75: Honey Bee Brood Test Under Semi-Field Conditions (tunnel test).

Honey bee brood feeding test

Similar to the bee brood test. However, the test item can be fed directly to free-flying honey bee colonies in sugar syrup. Additional measurements of mortality and overall colony development are also taken. Tests run according to Oomen, de Ruijter & Van der Steen (1992). 

Honey bee effects tests

These are conducted under open field conditions, to give realistic exposure scenarios (EPPO 170) and can be designed to look at a number of aspects including: spray applications, seed treatments (e.g. dust) and risks from guttation. Residue analysis can be incorporated to look at residues within the crop and returning foragers (and also from within hive matrices). We are also experienced with the use of Radio Frequency Identification studies (RFID) in open field situations as recommended in the EFSA GD to assess potential effects of PPPs on the foraging behaviour and mortality of worker bees. This RFID technology can also be used for dose/release/homing flight tests and we are part of the current ring test group assessing these methods. 

Bumble bee effects tests

Although there are no recognised guidelines for bumblebee field studies, we have a great deal of experience of developing bespoke protocols so that we can work with bumble bees under field conditions.

Solitary bee tests

Fera are members of the International Commission for Plant Pollinator Relationships (ICPPR) non-Apis working group helping to develop new test methods. We are also collaborating with Atlantic Pollination Ltd to extend our capabilities. Contact us directly about the latest developments.

For more information on our field and semi-filed test services please get in touch.

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Listen to our team: Selwyn Wilkins (Leading Bee Expert)

Watch our latest webinar with our leading bee expert, Selwyn Wilkins. Selwyn has nearly 30 years of experience in all aspects of apiculture. For over 20 years he worked within the UK National Bee Unit where he specialised in honey bee management, disease recognition diagnosis and control, extension to beekeepers, advice to policy and government and honey bee ecotoxicology.

He is an active member of the International Commission for Plant Pollinator Relations (ICPPR) - feeding into a number of working groups (one of which he co-chairs) – directly involved with the development and ring testing of new bee toxicity testing methods to be taken forward as new internationally recognised OECD test Guidelines. He also acts as a UK representative on the OECD Expert Panel on Development of Honey Bee Testing Methods and Guidelines.


Let us know how we can help

We work across:

  • Ecotoxicology
  • Fate & metabolism
  • Livestock metabolism and residue studies
  • Efficacy services
  • Analytical chemistry
  • Consultancy

Original thinking…applied to serve the agro-chem and veterinary medicines industries



As part of our role we provide support and advice to government running a wide variety of studies which investigate the effects of agro chemical (plant protection products) and new veterinary medicines (for beekeepers), nutrition and disease.

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Chemical Producers

Chemical Producers

Chemical companies developing plant protection products for growers need to ensure their pesticides provide effective protection against pests and diseases, at the same time as safeguarding essential pollinators, such as bees.

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Food, Retailers & Manufacturers

Food Retailers & Manufacturers

Responsible food retailers and manufacturers are committed to supporting sustainability throughout the food supply chain. This includes protecting pollinating insects as well as consumers from potentially harmful crop treatment products, such as neonicotinoids.

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General Public

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There are over 250 species of bee in the UK, made up of 225 species of solitary bees, 25 bumble bees, and just one honey bee. Different species have different life cycles and are active at varying times throughout the year.

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Government, Research & Universities

With a wide range of expertise in the diagnosis of honey bee pests and diseases and our work in preserving the future of our pollinators, Fera are the perfect partner for your diagnostic and research requirements.

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Growers & Argonomists

Growers & Agronomists

Pollinators are able to increase the yield and the quality of insect dependant crops. This means by embracing pollinators it can lead to higher production levels of your crops.

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