Acetylcholinesterase in honey bees (Apis mellifera) exposed to neonicotinoids, atrazine and glyphosate: laboratory and field experiments

Abstract

In Québec, as observed globally, abnormally high honey bee mortality rates have been reported recently. Several potential contributing factors have been identified, and exposure to pesticides is of increasing concern. In maize fields, foraging bees are exposed to residual concentrations of insecticides such as neonicotinoids used for seed coating. Highly toxic to bees, neonicotinoids are also reported to increase AChE activity in other invertebrates exposed to sub-lethal doses. The purpose of this study was therefore to test if the honey bee’s AChE activity could be altered by neonicotinoid compounds and to explore possible effects of other common products used in maize fields: atrazine and glyphosate. One week prior to pollen shedding, beehives were placed near three different field types: certified organically grown maize, conventionally grown maize or non-cultivated. At the same time, caged bees were exposed to increasing sub-lethal doses of neonicotinoid insecticides (imidacloprid and clothianidin) and herbicides (atrazine and glyphosate) under controlled conditions. While increased AChE activity was found in all fields after 2 weeks of exposure, bees close to conventional maize crops showed values higher than those in both organic maize fields and non-cultivated areas. In caged bees, AChE activity increased in response to neonicotinoids, and a slight decrease was observed by glyphosate. These results are discussed with regard to AChE activity as a potential biomarker of exposure for neonicotinoids.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Isabelle Ferland, Geneviève Beaunoyer, Cynthia Franci, Karine Dufresne, Dieynaba Diop, Hannan Alami and Arnaud Villier for their technical assistance. We also thank Émile Houle and Michael Benoit from CRSAD and the beekeepers and farmers involved in the field study. We acknowledge the contribution of Stéphane Laramée, André Pettigrew and François Gouin-Legault for fieldwork. We are grateful to TOXEN-CIRE (Centre interinstitutionnel de recherche en toxicologie de l’environnement–Centre Interinstitutionnel de recherche en écotoxicologie) for the use of laboratories and analytical equipment. The authors thank Dr. Philip Spear and Stephanie Hedrei-Helmer, M.Sc. for reviewing the manuscript. This study was supported by Programme de soutien à l’innovation en agroalimentaire (PSIA) from Ministère de l’Agriculture, des pêcheries et de l’alimentation du Québec (MAPAQ), Conseil pour le développement de l’agriculture du Québec (CDAQ) from Agriculture et Agroalimentaire Canada and Canadian Pollinator Initiative (CANPOLIN), grants attributed to M. Chagnon.

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Correspondence to Monique Boily.

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Boily, M., Sarrasin, B., DeBlois, C. et al. Acetylcholinesterase in honey bees (Apis mellifera) exposed to neonicotinoids, atrazine and glyphosate: laboratory and field experiments. Environ Sci Pollut Res 20, 5603–5614 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-013-1568-2

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Keywords

  • Apis mellifera
  • Biomarker
  • Neonicotinoids
  • Acetylcholinesterase
  • Maize cultivation