Neonicotinoid pesticides and nutritional stress synergistically reduce survival in honey bees

Proc Biol Sci. 2017 Dec 20;284(1869):20171711. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2017.1711.


The honey bee is a major pollinator whose health is of global concern. Declines in bee health are related to multiple factors, including resource quality and pesticide contamination. Intensive agricultural areas with crop monocultures potentially reduce the quality and quantity of available nutrients and expose bee foragers to pesticides. However, there is, to date, no evidence for synergistic effects between pesticides and nutritional stress in animals. The neonicotinoids clothianidin (CLO) and thiamethoxam (TMX) are common systemic pesticides that are used worldwide and found in nectar and pollen. We therefore tested if nutritional stress (limited access to nectar and access to nectar with low-sugar concentrations) and sublethal, field-realistic acute exposures to two neonicotinoids (CLO and TMX at 1/5 and 1/25 of LD50) could alter bee survival, food consumption and haemolymph sugar levels. Bee survival was synergistically reduced by the combination of poor nutrition and pesticide exposure (-50%). Nutritional and pesticide stressors reduced also food consumption (-48%) and haemolymph levels of glucose (-60%) and trehalose (-27%). Our results provide the first demonstration that field-realistic nutritional stress and pesticide exposure can synergistically interact and cause significant harm to animal survival. These findings have implications for current pesticide risk assessment and pollinator protection.

Keywords: bee health; carbohydrates; clothianidin; food consumption; haemolymph; thiamethoxam.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / drug effects
  • Animals
  • Bees / drug effects
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Food Deprivation
  • Guanidines / adverse effects*
  • Insecticides / adverse effects*
  • Longevity / drug effects
  • Neonicotinoids / adverse effects*
  • Nitro Compounds / adverse effects*
  • Oxazines / adverse effects*
  • Thiamethoxam
  • Thiazoles / adverse effects*


  • Guanidines
  • Insecticides
  • Neonicotinoids
  • Nitro Compounds
  • Oxazines
  • Thiazoles
  • clothianidin
  • Thiamethoxam