Combined pesticide exposure severely affects individual- and colony-level traits in bees

Richard J. Gill, Oscar Ramos-Rodriguez, Nigel E. Raine

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Reported widespread declines of wild and managed insect pollinators have serious consequences for global ecosystem services and agricultural production [1–3]. Bees contribute approximately 80% of insect pollination, so it is important to understand and mitigate the causes of current declines in bee populations [4–6]. Recent studies have implicated the role of pesticides in these declines, as exposure
to these chemicals has been associated with changes in bee behaviour [7–11] and reductions in colony queen production [12]. However, the key link between changes in individual behaviour and the consequent impact at the colony level has not been shown. Social bee colonies depend on the collective performance of many individual workers. Thus, although field-level pesticide concentrations can
have subtle or sublethal effects at the individual level [8], it is not known whether bee societies can buffer such effects or whether it results in a severe cumulative effect at the colony level. Furthermore, widespread agricultural intensification means that bees are exposed to numerous pesticides when foraging [13–15], yet the possible combinatorial effects of pesticide exposure have rarely been investigated [16,17]. Here we show that chronic exposure of bumblebees to two pesticides (neonicotinoid and pyrethroid) at concentrations that could approximate field-level exposure impairs natural foraging behaviour and increases worker mortality leading to significant reductions in brood development and colony success. We found that worker foraging performance, particularly pollen collecting efficiency, was significantly reduced with observed knock-on
effects for forager recruitment, worker losses and overall worker productivity. Moreover, we provide evidence that combinatorial exposure to pesticides increases the propensity of colonies to fail.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105-108
Number of pages4
Issue number7422
Early online date21 Oct 2012
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2012

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