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Neonicotinoids and decline in bird biodiversity in the United States


Neonicotinoid insecticides are being widely used and have raised concerns about negative impacts on non-target organisms. However, there has been no large-scale, generalizable study on their impact on biodiversity of avian species in the United States. Here we show, using a rich dataset on breeding birds and pesticide use in the United States, that the increase in neonicotinoid use led to statistically significant reductions in bird biodiversity between 2008 and 2014 relative to a counterfactual without neonicotinoid use, particularly for grassland and insectivorous birds, with average annual rates of reduction of 4% and 3%, respectively. The corresponding rates are even higher (12% and 5%, respectively) when the dynamic effects of bird population declines on future population growth are considered. The effects of neonicotinoids on non-grassland and non-insectivorous birds are also statistically significant but smaller, with an average annual rate of reduction of 2% over this period.

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Fig. 1: Trends in total pesticide use in the United States.
Fig. 2: Dynamic effects on bird population due to to a 100 kg increase of neonicotinoid use in 2008.
Fig. 3: Predicted changes in bird populations due to an increase in neonicotinoid use and the observed bird populations in the United States from 2008 to 2014.
Fig. 4: Changes in bird populations due to neonicotinoid use from 2008 to 2014.

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Data availability

All data compiled for this study are publicly available and are available at to replicate the findings in this manuscript. Source data are provided with this paper.

Code availability

The code to replicate all the regression analyses is available at


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We thank NIFA, USDA for hatch funding for this research. We also thank J. Tooker for helpful insights on the ways in which neonicotinoid use impact various organisms.

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Authors and Affiliations



All authors contributed to the design of the empirical methods and the writing of the manuscript. Y.L. collected the data and conducted the regression analysis.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Madhu Khanna.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Fig. 1 and Tables 1–22.

Supplementary Data 1

BBS survey route map.

Source data

Source Data Fig. 1

Aggregate pesticide use trend.

Source Data Fig. 2

Bird population change trend.

Source Data Fig. 3

Bird population change trend.

Source Data Fig. 4

Bird population change maps.

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Li, Y., Miao, R. & Khanna, M. Neonicotinoids and decline in bird biodiversity in the United States. Nat Sustain 3, 1027–1035 (2020).

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