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Concept: Bumblebee


Recent declines in honey bee populations and increasing demand for insect-pollinated crops raise concerns about pollinator shortages. Pesticide exposure and pathogens may interact to have strong negative effects on managed honey bee colonies. Such findings are of great concern given the large numbers and high levels of pesticides found in honey bee colonies. Thus it is crucial to determine how field-relevant combinations and loads of pesticides affect bee health. We collected pollen from bee hives in seven major crops to determine 1) what types of pesticides bees are exposed to when rented for pollination of various crops and 2) how field-relevant pesticide blends affect bees' susceptibility to the gut parasite Nosema ceranae. Our samples represent pollen collected by foragers for use by the colony, and do not necessarily indicate foragers' roles as pollinators. In blueberry, cranberry, cucumber, pumpkin and watermelon bees collected pollen almost exclusively from weeds and wildflowers during our sampling. Thus more attention must be paid to how honey bees are exposed to pesticides outside of the field in which they are placed. We detected 35 different pesticides in the sampled pollen, and found high fungicide loads. The insecticides esfenvalerate and phosmet were at a concentration higher than their median lethal dose in at least one pollen sample. While fungicides are typically seen as fairly safe for honey bees, we found an increased probability of Nosema infection in bees that consumed pollen with a higher fungicide load. Our results highlight a need for research on sub-lethal effects of fungicides and other chemicals that bees placed in an agricultural setting are exposed to.

Concepts: Insect, Beekeeping, Pesticide, Pollination, Flower, Pollinator decline, Bumblebee, Pollinator


The causes of bee declines remain hotly debated, particularly the contribution of neonicotinoid insecticides. In 2013 the UK’s Food & Environment Research Agency made public a study of the impacts of exposure of bumblebee colonies to neonicotinoids. The study concluded that there was no clear relationship between colony performance and pesticide exposure, and the study was subsequently cited by the UK government in a policy paper in support of their vote against a proposed moratorium on some uses of neonicotinoids. Here I present a simple re-analysis of this data set. It demonstrates that these data in fact do show a negative relationship between both colony growth and queen production and the levels of neonicotinoids in the food stores collected by the bees. Indeed, this is the first study describing substantial negative impacts of neonicotinoids on colony performance of any bee species with free-flying bees in a field realistic situation where pesticide exposure is provided only as part of normal farming practices. It strongly suggests that wild bumblebee colonies in farmland can be expected to be adversely affected by exposure to neonicotinoids.

Concepts: Insect, Honey bee, Pollinator decline, Bee, Bumblebee, Insecticide, Neonicotinoid, Imidacloprid


Wild bees are highly valuable pollinators. Along with managed honey bees, they provide a critical ecosystem service by ensuring stable pollination to agriculture and wild plant communities. Increasing concern about the welfare of both wild and managed pollinators, however, has prompted recent calls for national evaluation and action. Here, for the first time to our knowledge, we assess the status and trends of wild bees and their potential impacts on pollination services across the coterminous United States. We use a spatial habitat model, national land-cover data, and carefully quantified expert knowledge to estimate wild bee abundance and associated uncertainty. Between 2008 and 2013, modeled bee abundance declined across 23% of US land area. This decline was generally associated with conversion of natural habitats to row crops. We identify 139 counties where low bee abundances correspond to large areas of pollinator-dependent crops. These areas of mismatch between supply (wild bee abundance) and demand (cultivated area) for pollination comprise 39% of the pollinator-dependent crop area in the United States. Further, we find that the crops most highly dependent on pollinators tend to experience more severe mismatches between declining supply and increasing demand. These trends, should they continue, may increase costs for US farmers and may even destabilize crop production over time. National assessments such as this can help focus both scientific and political efforts to understand and sustain wild bees. As new information becomes available, repeated assessments can update findings, revise priorities, and track progress toward sustainable management of our nation’s pollinators.

Concepts: Agriculture, Insect, United States, Beekeeping, Pollinator decline, Bee, Bumblebee, Pollinator


Bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) use information from surrounding electric fields to make foraging decisions. Electroreception in air, a nonconductive medium, is a recently discovered sensory capacity of insects, yet the sensory mechanisms remain elusive. Here, we investigate two putative electric field sensors: antennae and mechanosensory hairs. Examining their mechanical and neural response, we show that electric fields cause deflections in both antennae and hairs. Hairs respond with a greater median velocity, displacement, and angular displacement than antennae. Extracellular recordings from the antennae do not show any electrophysiological correlates to these mechanical deflections. In contrast, hair deflections in response to an electric field elicited neural activity. Mechanical deflections of both hairs and antennae increase with the electric charge carried by the bumblebee. From this evidence, we conclude that sensory hairs are a site of electroreception in the bumblebee.

Concepts: Electromagnetism, Electric charge, Electromagnetic field, Honey bee, Bee, Bumblebee, Bombus terrestris, Bumblebees


Central place foragers, such as pollinating bees, typically develop circuits (traplines) to visit multiple foraging sites in a manner that minimizes overall travel distance. Despite being taxonomically widespread, these routing behaviours remain poorly understood due to the difficulty of tracking the foraging history of animals in the wild. Here we examine how bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) develop and optimise traplines over large spatial scales by setting up an array of five artificial flowers arranged in a regular pentagon (50 m side length) and fitted with motion-sensitive video cameras to determine the sequence of visitation. Stable traplines that linked together all the flowers in an optimal sequence were typically established after a bee made 26 foraging bouts, during which time only about 20 of the 120 possible routes were tried. Radar tracking of selected flights revealed a dramatic decrease by 80% (ca. 1500 m) of the total travel distance between the first and the last foraging bout. When a flower was removed and replaced by a more distant one, bees engaged in localised search flights, a strategy that can facilitate the discovery of a new flower and its integration into a novel optimal trapline. Based on these observations, we developed and tested an iterative improvement heuristic to capture how bees could learn and refine their routes each time a shorter route is found. Our findings suggest that complex dynamic routing problems can be solved by small-brained animals using simple learning heuristics, without the need for a cognitive map.

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


Agricultural land use results in direct biodiversity decline through loss of natural habitat, but may also cause indirect cross-habitat effects on conservation areas. We conducted three landscape-scale field studies on 67 sites to test the hypothesis that mass flowering of oilseed rape (Brassica napus) results in a transient dilution of bees in crop fields, and in increased competition between crop plants and grassland plants for pollinators. Abundances of bumble-bees, which are the main pollinators of the grassland plant Primula veris, but also pollinate oilseed rape (OSR), decreased with increasing amount of OSR. This landscape-scale dilution affected bumble-bee abundances strongly in OSR fields and marginally in grasslands, where bumble-bee abundances were generally low at the time of Primula flowering. Seed set of Primula veris, which flowers during OSR bloom, was reduced by 20 per cent when the amount of OSR within 1 km radius increased from 0 to 15 per cent. Hence, the current expansion of bee-attractive biofuel crops results in transient dilution of crop pollinators, which means an increased competition for pollinators between crops and wild plants. In conclusion, mass-flowering crops potentially threaten fitness of concurrently flowering wild plants in conservation areas, despite the fact that, in the long run, mass-flowering crops can enhance abundances of generalist pollinators and their pollination service.

Concepts: Agriculture, Pollination, Brassica, Flower, Pollinator decline, Pollination syndrome, Bumblebee, Pollinator


There has been recent interest in the threat to bees posed by the use of systemic insecticides. One concern is that systemic insecticides may translocate from the soil into pollen and nectar of plants, where they would be ingested by pollinators. This paper reports on the movement of two such systemic neonicotinoid insecticides, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam, into the pollen and nectar of flowers of squash (Cucurbita pepo cultivars “Multipik,” “Sunray” and “Bush Delicata”) when applied to soil by two methods: (1) sprayed into soil before seeding, or (2) applied through drip irrigation in a single treatment after transplant. All insecticide treatments were within labeled rates for these compounds. Pollen and nectar samples were analyzed using a standard extraction method widely used for pesticides (QuEChERS) and liquid chromatography mass spectrometric analysis. The concentrations found in nectar, 10 ± 3 ppb (mean ± s.d) for imidacloprid and 11 ± 6 ppb for thiamethoxam, are higher than concentrations of neonicotinoid insecticides in nectar of canola and sunflower grown from treated seed, and similar to those found in a recent study of neonicotinoids applied to pumpkins at transplant and through drip irrigation. The concentrations in pollen, 14 ± 8 ppb for imidacloprid and 12 ± 9 ppb for thiamethoxam, are higher than those found for seed treatments in most studies, but at the low end of the range found in the pumpkin study. Our concentrations fall into the range being investigated for sublethal effects on honey bees and bumble bees.

Concepts: Flower, Bumblebee, Insecticide, Neonicotinoid, Cucurbita pepo, Pumpkin, Cucurbita, Squash


Spray adjuvants are often applied to crops in conjunction with agricultural pesticides in order to boost the efficacy of the active ingredient(s). The adjuvants themselves are largely assumed to be biologically inert and are therefore subject to minimal scrutiny and toxicological testing by regulatory agencies. Honey bees are exposed to a wide array of pesticides as they conduct normal foraging operations, meaning that they are likely exposed to spray adjuvants as well. It was previously unknown whether these agrochemicals have any deleterious effects on honey bee behavior.

Concepts: Species, Insect, Honey bee, Beekeeping, Bumblebee, Apidae, Apiology, Bees and toxic chemicals


Hop (Humulus lupulus L.) beta acids (HBA) were tested for miticidal effects on varroa destructor Anderson and Trueman, a parasitic mite of the honey bee (Apis mellifera L.). When varroa were placed on bees that had topical applications of 1 % HBA, there was 100 % mite mortality. Bee mortality was unaffected. Cardboard strips saturated with HBA and placed in colonies resulted in mite drop that was significantly greater than in untreated hives. HBA was detected on about 60 % of the bees in colonies during the first 48 h after application. Mite drop in colonies lasted for about 7 days with the highest drop occurring in the first 2-3 days after treatment. There was a reduction in the percentages of bees with HBA and in the amounts on their bodies after 7 days. Bee and queen mortality in the colonies were not affected by HBA treatments. When cardboard strips saturated with HBA were put in packages of bees, more than 90 % of the mites were killed without an increase in bee mortality. HBA might have potential to control varroa when establishing colonies from packages or during broodless periods.

Concepts: Insect, Honey bee, Beekeeping, Bumblebee, Mite, Varroa destructor, Humulus lupulus, Hops


Exclusion from a social group is an effective way to avoid parasite transmission. This type of social removal has also been proposed as a form of collective defense, or social immunity, in eusocial insect groups. If parasitic modification of host behavior is widespread in social insects, the underlying physiological and neuronal mechanisms remain to be investigated. We studied this phenomenon in honey bees parasitized by the mite Varroa destructor or microsporidia Nosema ceranae, which make bees leave the hive precociously. We characterized the chemical, behavioral and neurogenomic changes in parasitized bees, and compared the effects of both parasites.

Concepts: Insect, Honey bee, Beekeeping, Bee, Bumblebee, Ant, Apidae, Hymenoptera