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Concept: Pollinator


Recent concern over global pollinator declines has led to considerable research on the effects of pesticides on bees. Although pesticides are typically not encountered at lethal levels in the field, there is growing evidence indicating that exposure to field-realistic levels can have sublethal effects on bees, affecting their foraging behaviour, homing ability and reproductive success. Bees are essential for the pollination of a wide variety of crops and the majority of wild flowering plants, but until now research on pesticide effects has been limited to direct effects on bees themselves and not on the pollination services they provide. Here we show the first evidence to our knowledge that pesticide exposure can reduce the pollination services bumblebees deliver to apples, a crop of global economic importance. Bumblebee colonies exposed to a neonicotinoid pesticide provided lower visitation rates to apple trees and collected pollen less often. Most importantly, these pesticide-exposed colonies produced apples containing fewer seeds, demonstrating a reduced delivery of pollination services. Our results also indicate that reduced pollination service delivery is not due to pesticide-induced changes in individual bee behaviour, but most likely due to effects at the colony level. These findings show that pesticide exposure can impair the ability of bees to provide pollination services, with important implications for both the sustained delivery of stable crop yields and the functioning of natural ecosystems.

Concepts: Honey bee, Pollination, Flower, Pollinator decline, Bee, Bumblebee, Pollinator, Apple


Understanding the mechanisms enabling coevolution in complex mutualistic networks remains a central challenge in evolutionary biology. We show for the first time, to our knowledge, that a tropical plant species has the capacity to discriminate among floral visitors, investing in reproduction differentially across the pollinator community. After we standardized pollen quality in 223 aviary experiments, successful pollination of Heliconia tortuosa (measured as pollen tube abundance) occurred frequently when plants were visited by long-distance traplining hummingbird species with specialized bills ([Formula: see text] pollen tubes = 1.21 ± 0.12 SE) but was reduced 5.7 times when visited by straight-billed territorial birds ([Formula: see text] pollen tubes = 0.20 ± 0.074 SE) or insects. Our subsequent experiments revealed that plants use the nectar extraction capacity of tropical hummingbirds, a positive function of bill length, as a cue to turn on reproductively. Furthermore, we show that hummingbirds with long bills and high nectar extraction efficiency engaged in daily movements at broad spatial scales (∼1 km), but that territorial species moved only short distances (<100 m). Such pollinator recognition may therefore affect mate selection and maximize receipt of high-quality pollen from multiple parents. Although a diffuse pollinator network is implied, because all six species of hummingbirds carry pollen of H. tortuosa, only two species with specialized bills contribute meaningfully to its reproduction. We hypothesize that this pollinator filtering behavior constitutes a crucial mechanism facilitating coevolution in multispecies plant-pollinator networks. However, pollinator recognition also greatly reduces the number of realized pollinators, thereby rendering mutualistic networks more vulnerable to environmental change.

Concepts: Evolution, Plant, Symbiosis, Pollination, Flower, Pollen, Pollinator, Hummingbird


Change in land cover is thought to be one of the key drivers of pollinator declines, and yet there is a dearth of studies exploring the relationships between historical changes in land cover and shifts in pollinator communities. Here, we explore, for the first time, land cover changes in England over more than 80 years, and relate them to concurrent shifts in bee and wasp species richness and community composition. Using historical data from 14 sites across four counties, we quantify the key land cover changes within and around these sites and estimate the changes in richness and composition of pollinators. Land cover changes within sites, as well as changes within a 1 km radius outside the sites, have significant effects on richness and composition of bee and wasp species, with changes in edge habitats between major land classes also having a key influence. Our results highlight not just the land cover changes that may be detrimental to pollinator communities, but also provide an insight into how increases in habitat diversity may benefit species diversity, and could thus help inform policy and practice for future land management.

Concepts: Pollinator decline, Bee, Wasp, Pollinator, Species diversity, Species richness


There is considerable and ongoing debate as to the harm inflicted on bees by exposure to agricultural pesticides. In part, the lack of consensus reflects a shortage of information on field-realistic levels of exposure. Here, we quantify concentrations of neonicotinoid insecticides and fungicides in the pollen of oilseed rape, and in pollen of wildflowers growing near arable fields. We then compare this to concentrations of these pesticides found in pollen collected by honey bees and in pollen and adult bees sampled from bumble bee colonies placed on arable farms. We also compared this with levels found in bumble bee colonies placed in urban areas. Pollen of oilseed rape was heavily contaminated with a broad range of pesticides, as was the pollen of wildflowers growing nearby. Consequently, pollen collected by both bee species also contained a wide range of pesticides, notably including the fungicides carbendazim, boscalid, flusilazole, metconazole, tebuconazole and trifloxystrobin and the neonicotinoids thiamethoxam, thiacloprid and imidacloprid. In bumble bees, the fungicides carbendazim, boscalid, tebuconazole, flusilazole and metconazole were present at concentrations up to 73nanogram/gram (ng/g). It is notable that pollen collected by bumble bees in rural areas contained high levels of the neonicotinoids thiamethoxam (mean 18ng/g) and thiacloprid (mean 2.9ng/g), along with a range of fungicides, some of which are known to act synergistically with neonicotinoids. Pesticide exposure of bumble bee colonies in urban areas was much lower than in rural areas. Understanding the effects of simultaneous exposure of bees to complex mixtures of pesticides remains a major challenge.

Concepts: Insect, Honey bee, Pollinator decline, Bee, Bumblebee, Pollinator, Insecticide, Apidae


Pollinators are declining worldwide and this has raised concerns for a parallel decline in the essential pollination service they provide to both crops and wild plants. Anthropogenic drivers linked to this decline include habitat changes, intensive agriculture, pesticides, invasive alien species, spread of pathogens and climate change. Recently, the rapid global increase in artificial light at night has been proposed to be a new threat to terrestrial ecosystems; the consequences of this increase for ecosystem function are mostly unknown. Here we show that artificial light at night disrupts nocturnal pollination networks and has negative consequences for plant reproductive success. In artificially illuminated plant-pollinator communities, nocturnal visits to plants were reduced by 62% compared to dark areas. Notably, this resulted in an overall 13% reduction in fruit set of a focal plant even though the plant also received numerous visits by diurnal pollinators. Furthermore, by merging diurnal and nocturnal pollination sub-networks, we show that the structure of these combined networks tends to facilitate the spread of the negative consequences of disrupted nocturnal pollination to daytime pollinator communities. Our findings demonstrate that artificial light at night is a threat to pollination and that the negative effects of artificial light at night on nocturnal pollination are predicted to propagate to the diurnal community, thereby aggravating the decline of the diurnal community. We provide perspectives on the functioning of plant-pollinator communities, showing that nocturnal pollinators are not redundant to diurnal communities and increasing our understanding of the human-induced decline in pollinators and their ecosystem service.

Concepts: Life, Ecology, Symbiosis, Ecosystem, Fruit, Pollination, Pollinator, Invasive species


The global decline in the abundance and diversity of insect pollinators could result from habitat loss, disease, and pesticide exposure. The contribution of the neonicotinoid insecticides (e.g., clothianidin and imidacloprid) to this decline is controversial, and key to understanding their risk is whether the astonishingly low levels found in the nectar and pollen of plants is sufficient to deliver neuroactive levels to their site of action: the bee brain. Here we show that bumblebees (Bombus terrestris audax) fed field levels [10 nM, 2.1 ppb (w/w)] of neonicotinoid accumulate between 4 and 10 nM in their brains within 3 days. Acute (minutes) exposure of cultured neurons to 10 nM clothianidin, but not imidacloprid, causes a nicotinic acetylcholine receptor-dependent rapid mitochondrial depolarization. However, a chronic (2 days) exposure to 1 nM imidacloprid leads to a receptor-dependent increased sensitivity to a normally innocuous level of acetylcholine, which now also causes rapid mitochondrial depolarization in neurons. Finally, colonies exposed to this level of imidacloprid show deficits in colony growth and nest condition compared with untreated colonies. These findings provide a mechanistic explanation for the poor navigation and foraging observed in neonicotinoid treated bumblebee colonies.-Moffat, C., Pacheco, J. G., Sharp, S., Samson, A. J., Bollan, K. A., Huang, J., Buckland, S. T., Connolly, C. N. Chronic exposure to neonicotinoids increases neuronal vulnerability to mitochondrial dysfunction in the bumblebee (Bombus terrestris).

Concepts: Acetylcholine, Pollination, Pollinator decline, Bee, Bumblebee, Pollinator, Insecticide, Neonicotinoid


Patterns of pigmentation overlying the petal vasculature are common in flowering plants and have been postulated to play a role in pollinator attraction. Previous studies report that such venation patterning is significantly more attractive to bee foragers in the field than ivory or white flowers without veins. To dissect the ways in which venation patterning of pigment can influence bumblebee behaviour, we investigated the response of flower-naïve individuals of Bombus terrestris to veined, ivory and red near-isogenic lines of Antirrhinum majus. We find that red venation shifts flower colour slightly, although the ivory background is the dominant colour. Bees were readily able to discriminate between ivory and veined flowers under differential conditioning but showed no innate preference when presented with a free choice of rewarding ivory and veined flowers. In contrast, both ivory and veined flowers were selected significantly more often than were red flowers. We conclude that advantages conferred by venation patterning might stem from bees learning of their use as nectar guides, rather than from any innate preference for striped flowers.

Concepts: Honey bee, Pollination, White, Flower, Pollinator decline, Bee, Bumblebee, Pollinator


Whilst most studies reviewing the reliance of global agriculture on insect pollination advocate increasing the ‘supply’ of pollinators (wild or managed) to improve crop yields, there has been little focus on altering a crop’s ‘demand’ for pollinators.Parthenocarpy (fruit set in the absence of fertilization) is a trait which can increase fruit quantity and quality from pollinator-dependent crops by removing the need for pollination.Here we present a meta-analysis of studies examining the extent and effectiveness of parthenocarpy-promoting techniques (genetic modification, hormone application and selective breeding) currently being used commercially, or experimentally, on pollinator-dependent crops in different test environments (no pollination, hand pollination, open pollination).All techniques significantly increased fruit quantity and quality in 18 pollinator-dependent crop species (not including seed and nut crops as parthenocarpy causes seedlessness). The degree to which plants experienced pollen limitation in the different test environments could not be ascertained, so the absolute effect of parthenocarpy relative to optimal pollination could not be determined. Synthesis and applications. Parthenocarpy has the potential to lower a crop’s demand for pollinators, whilst extending current geographic and climatic ranges of production. Thus, growers may wish to use parthenocarpic crop plants, in combination with other environmentally considerate practices, to improve food security and their economic prospects.

Concepts: Agriculture, Fruit, Pollination, Seed, Flower, Pollen, Pollinator, Crops


Evolutionary shifts in pollination systems within a plant genus are commonly associated with changes in floral scent, reflecting selection mediated through the sensory systems of various pollinators. The most common cetoniine beetle pollinator of grassland Protea species in South Africa, Atrichelaphinis tigrina, previously has been shown to have a strong preference for the fruity floral scent of these plants over the weak scent of their bird-pollinated congeners. However, it is not known which of the many compounds found in the scent of beetle pollinated Protea species play a role for pollinator attraction. Electroantennograms (EAG) from A. tigrina beetles were recorded in response to 15 compounds emitted by Protea flower heads. EAG responses to all 15 compounds were significantly greater than those to the paraffin solvent in which they were diluted. The greatest responses were observed for aromatics (anisole, methyl benzoate, methyl salicylate, benzaldehyde) followed by the monoterpene β-linalool, which can comprise up to 66 % of fruity Protea scents. Five compounds that elicited EAG responses (benzaldehyde, β-linalool, (E/Z)-linalool oxide (furanoid), methyl benzoate, and methyl salicylate) were tested in commercially available yellow bucket traps in the field to test their attractiveness to beetles. Traps baited with methyl benzoate, β-linalool, (E/Z)-linalool oxide (furanoid), and methyl salicylate caught significantly more insects than did those containing paraffin only. Methyl benzoate also was more specifically attractive to A. tigrina than was (E/Z)-linalool oxide (furanoid) and paraffin baited controls. A second field experiment using a combination of linalool vs. paraffin baited yellow or green traps showed that trap color had a significant effect on the number of trapped beetles. Yellow traps yielded a ten-fold higher number of insect catches than did green traps. However, the combination of yellow color and the scent compound linalool yielded the highest number of catches. This study has shown that the cetoniine beetle A. tigrina can detect a variety of floral compounds and is attracted to compounds comprising a large proportion of the blend that makes up fruity Protea scents, adding support for the hypothesis that change in scent chemistry during the shift from bird to cetoniine beetle pollination in this genus were mediated by beetle sensory preferences.

Concepts: Insect, Pollination, Flower, Pollinator decline, Pollen, Benzoic acid, Pollinator, Flavors


There is currently a great deal of concern about population declines in pollinating insects. Many potential threats have been identified which may adversely affect the behaviour and health of both honey bees and bumble bees: these include pesticide exposure, and parasites and pathogens. Whether biological pest control agents adversely affect bees has been much less well studied: it is generally assumed that biological agents are safer for wildlife than chemical pesticides. The aim of this study was to test whether entomopathogenic nematodes sold as biological pest control products could potentially have adverse effects on the bumble bee Bombus terrestris. One product was a broad spectrum pest control agent containing both Heterorhabditis sp. and Steinernema sp., the other product was specifically for weevil control and contained only Steinernema kraussei. Both nematode products caused ≥80% mortality within the 96 h test period when bees were exposed to soil containing entomopathogenic nematodes at the recommended field concentration of 50 nematodes per cm(2) soil. Of particular concern is the fact that nematodes from the broad spectrum product could proliferate in the carcasses of dead bees, and therefore potentially infect a whole bee colony or spread to the wider environment.

Concepts: Insect, Honey bee, Pollinator decline, Bee, Bumblebee, Pollinator, Apidae, Pollinators