Biological Effects and Effect Mechanisms of Neonicotinoid Pesticides in the Bumble Bee Bombus Terrestris
Date: 12 February 2014
University of Exeter
PhD in Biological Sciences
Bumble bees provide valuable pollination services to many agricultural crops and wild flower species. Consequently, evidence that wild populations are in decline has caused widespread concern. Among multiple causal factors, some have singled out neonicotinoid pesticides as potentially a major contributor to these declines. Bumble bees ...
Bumble bees provide valuable pollination services to many agricultural crops and wild flower species. Consequently, evidence that wild populations are in decline has caused widespread concern. Among multiple causal factors, some have singled out neonicotinoid pesticides as potentially a major contributor to these declines. Bumble bees are exposed to neonicotinoids, such as imidacloprid and thiamethoxam, whilst foraging for nectar and pollen from treated crops. For neonicotinoids to cause population decline, the typical residues that bumble bees encounter in the field (defined here as between 1–12 μg kg-1) should be capable of reducing colony success by detrimentally impacting demographically relevant endpoints such as reproduction and worker performance. Whether field-realistic neonicotinoids are capable of causing such effects is yet to be fully established. The overall aim of this thesis was to investigate the effects of field-realistic neonicotinoids on endpoints of demographic importance and improve understanding of the effect mechanisms of neonicotinoids in bumble bees. Laboratory experiments were conducted with Bombus terrestris L. exposed to dietary neonicotinoids up to 98 μg kg-1. Results showed that food consumption and production of brood (eggs and larvae) in queenless B. terrestris microcolonies were significantly reduced by the two highest concentrations of imidacloprid and thiamethoxam tested (39, 98 μg kg-1), but only imidacloprid produced a negative effect when concentrations were in the typical field-realistic range. Imidacloprid’s affect on microcolonies was mirrored in queenright colonies where field-realistic concentrations substantively reduced both feeding and brood production. It was postulated that the detrimental effects of imidacloprid on brood production emerge principally from nutrient limitation imposed by the failure of individuals to feed. Removing imidacloprid from the bees’ diet resulted in the recovery of feeding and brood production in queenright colonies, even when previously exposed to high doses (98 μg kg-1). Investigation into the effect mechanisms of imidacloprid in B. terrestris revealed that cytochrome P450 enzymes are not important for metabolism of the neonicotinoid in adult workers. A transcriptomic analysis indicated B. terrestris exhibit a general stress response to imidacloprid, characterised by the alteration in expression of genes involved in, for example, metabolism and storage of energy. The thesis findings raise further concern about the threat of imidacloprid to wild bumble bees. However, they also suggest that some demographically important endpoints are resilient to imidacloprid as a realistic pulsed exposure, and that bumble bees may be less sensitive to field-realistic concentrations of thiamethoxam. Further research, which is required to fully establish the demographic consequences for bumble bees of exposure to neonicotinoids, can be developed based on the foundation of work presented here.
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