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Risk assessment for side-effects of neonicotinoids against bumblebees with and without impairing foraging behavior

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Abstract

Bombus terrestris bumblebees are important pollinators of wild flowers, and in modern agriculture they are used to guarantee pollination of vegetables and fruits. In the field it is likely that worker bees are exposed to pesticides during foraging. To date, several tests exist to assess lethal and sublethal side-effects of pesticides on bee survival, growth/development and reproduction. Within the context of ecotoxicology and insect physiology, we report the development of a new bioassay to assess the impact of sublethal concentrations on the bumblebee foraging behavior under laboratory conditions. In brief, the experimental setup of this behavior test consists of two artificial nests connected with a tube of about 20 cm and use of queenless micro-colonies of 5 workers. In one nest the worker bees constructed brood, and in the other food (sugar and pollen) was provided. Before exposure, the worker bees were allowed a training to forage for untreated food; afterwards this was replaced by treated food. Using this setup we investigated the effects of sublethal concentrations of the neonicotinoid insecticide imidacloprid, known to negatively affect the foraging behavior of bees. For comparison within the family of neonicotinoid insecticides, we also tested different concentrations of two other neonicotinoids: thiamethoxam and thiacloprid, in the laboratory with the new bioassay. Finally to evaluate the new bioassay, we also tested sublethal concentrations of imidacloprid in the greenhouse with use of queenright colonies of B. terrestris, and here worker bees needed to forage/fly for food that was placed at a distance of 3 m from their hives. In general, the experiments showed that concentrations that may be considered safe for bumblebees can have a negative influence on their foraging behavior. Therefore it is recommended that behavior tests should be included in risk assessment tests for highly toxic pesticides because impairment of the foraging behavior can result in a decreased pollination, lower reproduction and finally in colony mortality due to a lack of food.

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Acknowledgments

The authors are indebted to Kris Jans (Biobest) for his help during the experiments, and to Dr. Helen Thompson (CSL, York, UK) for her careful editing. This research project was supported in part by the Research Council of VUB (Brussels, Belgium) and the Fonds National de la Recherche Luxemborg (FNR) (Luxembourg).

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Correspondence to Veerle Mommaerts or Guy Smagghe.

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Mommaerts, V., Reynders, S., Boulet, J. et al. Risk assessment for side-effects of neonicotinoids against bumblebees with and without impairing foraging behavior. Ecotoxicology 19, 207–215 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10646-009-0406-2

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10646-009-0406-2

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