Effect of acute pesticide exposure on bee spatial working memory using an analogue of the radial-arm maze

Elizabeth Samuelson, Zachary Chen-Wishart, Richard Gill, Ellouise Leadbeater

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Pesticides, including neonicotinoids, typically target pest insects by being neurotoxic. Inadvertent exposure to foraging insect pollinators is usually sub-lethal, but may affect cognition. One cognitive trait, spatial working memory, may be important in avoiding previously-visited flowers and other spatial tasks such as navigation. To test this, we investigated the effect of acute thiamethoxam exposure on spatial working memory in the bumblebee Bombus terrestris, using an adaptation of the radial-arm maze (RAM). We first demonstrated that bumblebees use spatial working memory to solve the RAM by showing that untreated bees performed significantly better than would be expected if choices were random or governed by stereotyped visitation rules. We then exposed bees to either a high sub-lethal positive control thiamethoxam dose (2.5 ng−1 bee), or one of two low doses (0.377 or 0.091 ng−1) based on estimated field-realistic exposure. The high dose caused bees to make more and earlier spatial memory errors and take longer to complete the task than unexposed bees. For the low doses, the negative effects were smaller but statistically significant, and dependent on bee size. The spatial working memory impairment shown here has the potential to harm bees exposed to thiamethoxam, through possible impacts on foraging efficiency or homing.
Original languageEnglish
Article number38957
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 13 Dec 2016

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