Side effects of a fungus-based biopesticide on stingless bee guarding behaviour

Chemosphere. 2021 Sep 2;287(Pt 2):132147. doi: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2021.132147. Online ahead of print.


Pathogenic fungi have been used worldwide to control crop pests and are assumed to pose negligible threats to the survival of pollinators. Although eusocial stingless bees provide essential pollination services and might be exposed to these biopesticides in tropical agroecosystems, there is a substantial knowledge gap regarding the side effects of fungal pathogens on behavioural traits that are crucial for colony functioning, such as guarding behaviour. Here, we evaluated the effect of Beauveria bassiana on the sophisticated kin recognition system of Tetragonisca angustula, a bee with morphologically specialized entrance guards. By combining behavioural assays and chemical analyses, we show that guards detect pathogen-exposed nestmates, preventing them from accessing nests. Furthermore, cuticular profiles of pathogen-exposed foragers contained significantly lower amounts of linear alkanes than the unexposed ones. Such chemical cues associated with fungal conidia may potentially trigger aggression towards pathogen-exposed bees, preventing pathogen spread into and among colonies. This is the first demonstration that this highly abundant native bee seems to respond in a much more adaptive way to a potentially infectious threat, outweighing the costs of losing foraging workforce when reducing the chances of fungal pathogen outbreaks within their colonies, than honeybees do.

Keywords: Beauveria bassiana; Cuticular hydrocarbons; Entomopathogenic fungus; Nestmate recognition; Social insects; Tetragonisca angustula.