OPEN Scientific reports | 16 Nov 2017
PR Whitehorn, C Wallace and M Vallejo-Marin
Neonicotinoid pesticides have been linked to global declines of beneficial insects such as bumblebees. Exposure to trace levels of these chemicals causes sub-lethal effects, such as reduced learning and foraging efficiency. Complex behaviours may be particularly vulnerable to the neurotoxic effects of neonicotinoids. Such behaviours may include buzz pollination (sonication), in which pollinators, usually bees, use innate and learned behaviours to generate high-frequency vibrations to release pollen from flowers with specialised anther morphologies. This study assesses the effect of field-realistic, chronic exposure to the widely-used neonicotinoid thiamethoxam on the development of sonication buzz characteristics over time, as well as the collection of pollen from buzz-pollinated flowers. We found that the pollen collection of exposed bees improved less with increasing experience than that of unexposed bees, with exposed bees collecting between 47% and 56% less pollen by the end of 10 trials. We also found evidence of two distinct strategies for maximising pollen collection: (1) extensions to the duration of individual buzzes and (2) extensions of the overall time spent buzzing. We find new complexities in buzz pollination, and conclude that the impacts of field-realistic exposure to a neonicotinoid pesticide may seriously compromise this important ecosystem service.
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