Honey bees (Apis mellifera L.) are bioindicators of environmental pollution levels. During their wide-ranging foraging activity, these hymenopterans are exposed to pollutants, thus becoming a useful tool to trace the environmental contaminants as heavy metals, pesticides, radionuclides and volatile organic compounds. In the present work we demonstrate that bees can also be used as active samplers of airborne particulate matter. Worker bees were collected from hives located in a polluted postmining area in South West Sardinia (Italy) that is also exposed to dust emissions from industrial plants. The area is included in an official list of sites of national interest for environmental remediation, and has been characterized for the effects of pollutants on the health of the resident population. The head, wings, hind legs and alimentary canal of the bees were investigated with Scanning Electron Microscopy coupled with X-ray spectroscopy (SEM-EDX). The analyses pointed to specific morphological and chemical features of the particulate, and resulted into the identification of three categories of particles: industry -, postmining -, and soil –derived. With the exception of the gut, all the analyzed body districts displayed inorganic particles, mostly concentrated in specific areas of the body (i.e. along the costal margin of the fore wings, the medial plane of the head, and the inner surface of the hind legs). The role of both past mining activities and the industrial activity close to the study area as sources of the particulate matter is also discussed. We conclude that honey bees are able to collect samples of the main airborne particles emitted from different sources, therefore could be an ideal tool for monitoring such a kind of pollutants.
- Environmental Monitoring
- Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
- Particulate Matter