No effect of low-level chronic neonicotinoid exposure on bumblebee learning and fecundity

PeerJ. 2016 Mar 22;4:e1808. doi: 10.7717/peerj.1808. eCollection 2016.

Abstract

In recent years, many pollinators have declined in abundance and diversity worldwide, presenting a potential threat to agricultural productivity, biodiversity and the functioning of natural ecosystems. One of the most debated factors proposed to be contributing to pollinator declines is exposure to pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids, a widely used class of systemic insecticide. Also, newly emerging parasites and diseases, thought to be spread via contact with managed honeybees, may pose threats to other pollinators such as bumblebees. Compared to honeybees, bumblebees could be particularly vulnerable to the effects of stressors due to their smaller and more short-lived colonies. Here, we studied the effect of field-realistic, chronic clothianidin exposure and inoculation with the parasite Nosema ceranae on survival, fecundity, sugar water collection and learning using queenless Bombus terrestris audax microcolonies in the laboratory. Chronic exposure to 1 ppb clothianidin had no significant effects on the traits studied. Interestingly, pesticide exposure in combination with additional stress caused by harnessing bees for Proboscis Extension Response (PER) learning assays, led to an increase in mortality. In contrast to previous findings, the bees did not become infected by N. ceranae after experimental inoculation with the parasite spores, suggesting variability in host resistance or parasite virulence. However, this treatment induced a slight, short-term reduction in sugar water collection, potentially through stimulation of the immune system of the bees. Our results suggest that chronic exposure to 1 ppb clothianidin does not have adverse effects on bumblebee fecundity or learning ability.

Keywords: Clothianidin; Memory; Nosema ceranae; Pollinators; Proboscis extension response.

Grant support

This work was financially supported by Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation Post-Doc Pool. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.