From seeds to plasma: confirmed exposure of multiple farmland bird species to clothianidin during sowing of winter cereals

Rosie Lennon, Will J Peach, Jenny Dunn, Richard F Shore, Gloria Pereira, Darren Sleep, Steve Dodd, Christopher Wheatley, Kathryn Elizabeth Arnold, Colin David Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Neonicotinoids are the largest group of systemic insecticides worldwide and are most commonly applied as agricultural seed treatments. However, little is known about the extent to which farmland birds are exposed to these compounds during standard agricultural practices. This study uses winter cereal, treated with the neonicotinoid clothianidin, as a test system to examine patterns of exposure in farmland birds during a typical sowing period. The availability of neonicotinoid-treated seed was recorded post-sowing at 39 fields (25 farms), and camera traps were used to monitor seed consumption by wild birds in situ. The concentration of clothianidin in treated seeds and crop seedlings was measured via liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry, and avian blood samples were collected from 11 species of farmland bird from a further six capture sites to quantify the prevalence and level of clothianidin exposure associated with seed treatments. Neonicotinoid-treated seeds were found on the soil surface at all but one of the fields surveyed at an average density of 2.8 seeds/m2. The concentration of clothianidin in seeds varied around the target application rate, whilst crop seedlings contained on average 5.9% of the clothianidin measured in seeds. Exposure was confirmed in 32% of bird species observed in treated fields and 50% of individual birds post-sowing; the median concentration recorded in positive samples was 12 ng/mL. Results here provide clear evidence that a variety of farmland birds are subject to neonicotinoid exposure following normal agricultural sowing of neonicotinoid-treated cereal seed. Furthermore, the widespread availability of seeds at the soil surface was identified as a primary source of exposure. Overall, these data are likely to have global implications for bird species and current agricultural policies where neonicotinoids are in use, and may be pertinent to any future risk assessments for systemic insecticide seed treatments.
Original languageEnglish
Article number138056
Number of pages11
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date19 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jun 2020

Bibliographical note

© 2020 Published by Elsevier B.V.

Cite this