Tracking neonicotinoids following their use as cotton seed treatments

Kristina L. Kohl, Lauren K. Harrell, Joseph F. Mudge, Seenivasan Subbiah, John Kasumba, Etem Osma, Apurba K. Barman, Todd A. Anderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Neonicotinoids are a leading class of insecticides on the global market, accounting for nearly 25%. They are widely used in both agricultural and residential settings. Causing neuron failure by irreversibly binding to the insect nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, neonicotinoids offer broad spectrum efficacy against a variety of pests. However, because they are non-selective with regard to insect species, there has been some concern with neonicotinoid use over threats to pollinators such as honeybees, and potential indirect effects to migratory waterfowl as a result of invertebrate prey population depletion. In order to study occurrence and fate of neonicotinoids (thiamethoxam and imidacloprid), we analyzed cotton leaves on plants grown from neonicotinoid-treated seeds and corresponding soil samples between cotton rows. Neonicotinoid concentration data from cotton leaves appears to be consistent with the claim that seed treatments protect plants for 3–4 weeks; by 30 days post-planting, neonicotinoid concentrations fell, in general, to 200 ng/g or lower. This represents about a 10-fold decrease from plant concentrations at approximately 2 weeks post-planting. It was found that neonicotinoids used as seed treatments remained present in the soil for months post planting and could be available for runoff. To that end, 21 playa wetlands were sampled; 10 had at least one quantifiable neonicotinoid present, three of which were classified as grassland or rangeland playas, two were urban, and the remaining five were cropland playas. In several instances, neonicotinoid concentrations in playas exceeded EPA chronic benchmarks for aquatic invertebrates.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere6805
StatePublished - 2019


  • Clothianidin
  • Environmental fate
  • Imidacloprid
  • Plant uptake
  • Playa wetland
  • Runoff
  • Thiamethoxam


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