Buffered fitness components: Antagonism between malnutrition and an insecticide in bumble bees

Sci Total Environ. 2022 Aug 10:833:155098. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.155098. Epub 2022 Apr 6.


Global insect biodiversity declines due to reduced fitness are linked to interactions between environmental stressors. In social insects, inclusive fitness depends on successful mating of reproductives, i.e. males and queens, and efficient collaborative brood care by workers. Therefore, interactive effects between malnutrition and environmental pollution on sperm and feeding glands (hypopharyngeal glands (HPGs)) would provide mechanisms for population declines, unless buffered against due to their fitness relevance. However, while negative effects for bumble bee colony fitness are known, the effects of malnutrition and insecticide exposure singly and in combination on individuals are poorly understood. Here we show, in a fully-crossed laboratory experiment, that malnutrition and insecticide exposure result in neutral or antagonistic interactions for spermatozoa and HPGs of bumble bees, Bombus terrestris, suggesting strong selection to buffer key colony fitness components. No significant effects were observed for mortality and consumption, but significant negative effects were revealed for spermatozoa traits and HPGs. The combined effects on these parameters were not higher than the individual stressor effects, which indicates an antagonistic interaction between both. Despite the clear potential for additive effects, due to the individual stressors impairing muscle quality and neurological control, simultaneous malnutrition and insecticide exposure surprisingly did not reveal an increased impact compared to individual stressors, probably due to key fitness traits being resilient. Our data support that stressor interactions require empirical tests on a case-by-case basis and need to be regarded in context to understand underlying mechanisms and so adequately mitigate the ongoing decline of the entomofauna.

Keywords: Gland; Interaction; Malnutrition; Neonicotinoid; Pollen; Sperm.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees
  • Insecta
  • Insecticides* / toxicity
  • Male
  • Malnutrition*
  • Reproduction
  • Spermatozoa


  • Insecticides