About the project

Bio-monitoring of environmental pollutants
The INSIGNIA-EU project aims to design and test an innovative,
non-invasive, scientifically proven citizen science environmental monitoring protocol for the detection of pesticides, microplastics, heavy metals, and air pollutants by honey bee colonies. Honeybee colonies are excellent bio-samplers of biological material such as nectar, pollen, and plant pathogens, as well as non-biological material such as pesticides or airborne contamination.

We developed a non-invasive APIStrip (Absorbing Pesticides In-hive Strips) with a pollutant adsorbent which is hung between the bee lanes for non-invasive sampling. The APIStrip was analysed for 273 pesticide residues. The pilot INSIGNIA project INSIGNIA-bee, 2018-2021) resulted in a guideline with protocols that were developed and tested for citizen-science-based monitoring of pesticides using honey bees.

To record the pollen diversity, biweekly pollen sampling in sentinel apiaries over a range of European countries and landscapes was performed. The samples were analysed for botanical origin, using state of the art molecular techniques (metabarcoding).

The pollen- and pesticide residue data collected were used to develop and test a spatial modelling system aimed at predicting spatially-explicit pollen diversity and pesticide mixture exposure and risk at the apiary level.

In 2022 a tender call by the European Commission resulted in the INSIGNIA-EU consortium. A new 2 years project was granted aiming to present a comprehensive pan-European environmental pollution monitoring study with honey bees, continuing the INSIGNIA-bee project.

Human activity impacts the environment in many ways. One of the more problematic impacts is the pollution of the environment and the type and quantity of pollutants vary greatly in different environments. Although pesticides used in agriculture, are a known hazard due to their biological activity, these compounds are not restricted to the field and pest organisms they are applied. Other pollutants have even been less obvious because we have not been aware of their impact for many years. An example is air pollution which increased while our societies industrialized and are currently regarded as the single largest environmental health risk in Europe (https://www.eea.europa.eu/). Unfortunately, other pollutants such as heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls, airborne particulate matter, and microplastics have also reached our environment.

Beekeepers as citizen scientists have been proven to be effective at sampling, for example by using pollen traps to collect pollen, but are also able to collect other sample matrices, when robust sampling procedures are applied and are well explained. The outcome of the project will provide the first standardized EU-wide monitoring of environmental pollutants in honey bee colonies. This will be achieved by a network of beekeepers, sampling their colonies as citizen scientists.

Funding information: The project is funded by the EU, under the N° 09.200200/2021/864096/SER/ ENV.D.2.

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