Tracing natural and industrial contamination and lead isotopic compositions in an Australian native bee species

Xiaoteng Zhou*, Mark Patrick Taylor, Peter J. Davies

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


This study investigates trace element concentrations (arsenic (As), manganese (Mn), lead (Pb) and zinc (Zn)) and Pb isotopic compositions in an Australian native bee species, Tetragonula carbonaria, and its products of honey and wax. Co-located soil and dust samples were simultaneously analysed with the objective of determining if the bees or their products had potential application as a proxy for monitoring environmental contamination. The most significant relationships were found between Pb concentrations in honey (r = 0.814, p = 0.014) and wax (r = 0.883, p = 0.004) and those in co-located dust samples. In addition, Zn concentrations in honey and soil were significantly associated (r = 0.709, p = 0.049). Lead isotopic compositions of native bee products collected from background sites adjacent to Sydney national parks (206Pb/207Pb = 1.144, 208Pb/207Pb = 2.437) corresponded to local geogenic rock and soil values (206Pb/207Pb = 1.123–1.176, 208Pb/207Pb = 2.413–2.500). By contrast, inner Sydney metropolitan samples, including native bees and wax (206Pb/207Pb = 1.072–1.121, 208Pb/207Pb = 2.348–2.409), co-located soil and dust (206Pb/207Pb = 1.090–1.122, 208Pb/207Pb = 2.368–2.403), corresponded most closely to aerosols collected during the period of leaded petrol use (206Pb/207Pb = 1.067–1.148, 208Pb/207Pb = 2.341–2.410). A large range of Pb isotopic compositions in beehive samples suggests that other legacy sources, such as Pb-based paints and industrials, may have also contributed to Pb contamination in beehive samples. Native bee data were compared to corresponding samples from the more common European honey bee (Apis mellifera). Although Pb isotopic compositions were similar in both species, significant differences in trace element concentrations were evident across the trace element suite, the bees and their products. The statistical association between T. carbonaria and co-located environmental contaminant concentrations were stronger than those in European honey bees, which may be attributable to its smaller foraging distance (0.3–0.7 km versus 5–9 km, respectively). This implies that T. carbonaria may be more suitable for assessing small spatial scale variations of trace element concentrations than European honey bees.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)54-62
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2018


  • Bees
  • Bio-indicator
  • Honey
  • Leaded petrol
  • Pb isotopes
  • Tetragonula carbonaria


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