Inert agricultural spray adjuvants may increase the adverse effects of selected insecticides on honey bees (Apis mellifera L.) under laboratory conditions
Currently, more than 360 spray adjuvants are registered in Germany (September 2021). Unlike plant protection products (PPPs), adjuvants are not subjected to regulatory risk assessment. In practice, numerous combinations of PPPs and adjuvants are therefore possible. Thus, tank mixtures containing insecticides that are classified as non-hazardous to bees up to the highest approved application rate or concentration may raise pollinator safety concerns when mixed with efficacy increasing adjuvants and applied in bee-attractive crops. This study analyzes whether selected “PPP–adjuvant” combinations result in increased contact mortality and pose an elevated risk to honey bees. To answer this question, we chose six common spray adjuvants of different classes for laboratory screening. These were then tested in a total of 30 tank mixtures, each with a neonicotinoid (acetamiprid), pyrethroid (lambda-cyhalothrin), diamide (chlorantraniliprole), carbamate (pirimicarb), and butenolide (flupyradifurone) formulation. We adapted an acute contact test (OECD Test Guideline 214) to our needs, e.g., by using a professional spray chamber for more realistic exposures. Our results showed that, in total, 50% of all combinations significantly increased the mortality of caged honey bees in comparison with individual application of insecticides. In contrast, none of the adjuvants alone affected bee mortality (Cox proportional hazard model, p > 0.05). With four of the five insecticide formulations, the organosilicone surfactant Break-Thru® S 301 significantly increased bee mortality within 72 h (for all insecticides except chlorantraniliprole). Furthermore, acetamiprid yielded the highest and second highest mortality increases from a tank mixture with the crop oil surfactant LI 700® (hazard ratio = 28.84, p < 0.05) and the organosilicone Break-Thru® S 301 (hazard ratio = 14.66, p < 0.05), respectively. To assess risk in a more field-realistic setting, field trials should be performed to provide a more realistic exposure scenario under colony conditions.