Climate change poses a threat to global food security with extreme heat events causing drought and direct damage to crop plants. However, by altering behavioural or physiological responses of insects, extreme heat events may also affect pollination services on which many crops are dependent. Such effects may potentially be exacerbated by other environmental stresses, such as exposure to widely used agro-chemicals. To determine whether environmental stressors interact to affect pollination services, we carried out field cage experiments on the buff-tailed bumble bee (Bombus terrestris). Using a Bayesian approach, we assessed whether heat stress (colonies maintained at an ambient temperature of 25 °C or 31 °C) and insecticide exposure (5 ng g-1 of the neonicotinoid insecticide clothianidin) could induce behavioural changes that affected pollination of faba bean (Vicia faba). Only the bumble bee colonies and not the plants were exposed to the environmental stress treatments. Bean plants exposed to heat-stressed bumble bee colonies (31 °C) had a lower proportional pod set compared to colonies maintained at 25 °C. There was also weak evidence that heat stressed colonies caused lower total bean weight. Bee exposure to clothianidin was found to have no clear effect on plant yields, either individually or as part of an interaction. We identified no effect of either colony stressor on bumble bee foraging behaviours. Our results suggest that extreme heat stress at the colony level may impact on pollination services. However, as the effect for other key yield parameters was weaker (e.g. bean yields), our results are not conclusive. Overall, our study highlights the need for further research on how environmental stress affects behavioural interactions in plant-pollinator systems that could impact on crop yields.
Keywords: Neonicotinoid; bumblebees; climate change; heat stress; pesticide; pollination ecosystem services.