Effects of neonicotinoid insecticide exposure and monofloral diet on nest-founding bumblebee queens

Proc Biol Sci. 2018 Jun 13;285(1880):20180761. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2018.0761.


Bumblebees are among the world's most important groups of pollinating insects in natural and agricultural ecosystems. Each spring, queen bumblebees emerge from overwintering and initiate new nests, which ultimately give rise to workers and new reproductives later in the season. Nest initiation and survival are thus key drivers of both bumblebee pollination services and population dynamics. We performed the first laboratory experiment with the model bumblebee species Bombus impatiens that explores how early nesting success is impacted by the effects of temporary or more sustained exposure to sublethal levels of a neonicotinoid-type insecticide (imidacloprid at 5 ppb in nectar) and by reliance on a monofloral pollen diet, two factors that have been previously implicated in bumblebee decline. We found that queens exhibited increased mortality and dramatically reduced activity levels when exposed to imidacloprid, as well as delayed nest initiation and lower brood numbers in the nest, but partially recovered from these effects when they only received early, temporary exposure. The effects of pollen diet on individual queen- and colony-level responses were overshadowed by effects of the insecticide, although a monofloral pollen diet alone was sufficient to negatively impact brood production. These findings speak to the sensitivity of queen bumblebees during the nest initiation phase of the colony cycle, with implications for how queens and their young nests are uniquely impacted by exposure to threats such as pesticide exposure and foraging habitat unsuitability.

Keywords: bumblebees; neonicotinoids; nesting; nutrition; queens.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / drug effects
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Diet / adverse effects
  • Insecticides / adverse effects*
  • Neonicotinoids / adverse effects*
  • Nesting Behavior / drug effects*
  • Nitro Compounds / adverse effects*
  • Pollen / adverse effects*


  • Insecticides
  • Neonicotinoids
  • Nitro Compounds
  • imidacloprid

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.4114538