Do pesticide and pathogen interactions drive wild bee declines?

Lars Straub, Verena Strobl, Orlando Yanez, Matthias Albrecht, Mark J F Brown, Peter Neumann

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There is clear evidence for wild insect declines globally. Habitat loss, climate change, pests, pathogens and environmental pollution have all been shown to cause detrimental effects on insects. However, interactive effects between these stressors may be the key to understanding reported declines. Here, we review the literature on pesticide and pathogen interactions for wild bees, identify knowledge gaps, and suggest avenues for future research fostering mitigation of the observed declines. The limited studies available suggest that effects of pesticides most likely override effects of pathogens. Bees feeding on flowers and building sheltered nests, are likely less adapted to toxins compared to other insects, which potential susceptibility is enhanced by the reduced number of genes encoding detoxifying enzymes compared with other insect species. However, to date all 10 studies using a fully-crossed design have been conducted in the laboratory on social bees using Crithidia spp. or Nosema spp., identifying an urgent need to test solitary bees and other pathogens. Similarly, since laboratory studies do not necessarily reflect field conditions, semi-field and field studies are essential if we are to understand these interactions and their potential effects in the real-world. In conclusion, there is a clear need for empirical (semi-)field studies on a range of pesticides, pathogens, and insect species to better understand the pathways and mechanisms underlying their potential interactions, in particularly their relevance for insect fitness and population dynamics. Such data are indispensable to drive forward robust modelling of interactive effects in different environmental settings and foster predictive science. This will enable pesticide and pathogen interactions to be put into the context of other stressors more broadly, evaluating their relative importance in driving the observed declines of wild bees and other insects. Ultimately, this will enable the development of more effective mitigation measures to protect bees and the ecosystem services they supply
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)232-243
JournalInternational Journal for Parasitology: Parasites and Wildlife
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022

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