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Concept: Neonicotinoid


Large-scale losses of honey bee colonies represent a poorly understood problem of global importance. Both biotic and abiotic factors are involved in this phenomenon that is often associated with high loads of parasites and pathogens. A stronger impact of pathogens in honey bees exposed to neonicotinoid insecticides has been reported, but the causal link between insecticide exposure and the possible immune alteration of honey bees remains elusive. Here, we demonstrate that the neonicotinoid insecticide clothianidin negatively modulates NF-κB immune signaling in insects and adversely affects honey bee antiviral defenses controlled by this transcription factor. We have identified in insects a negative modulator of NF-κB activation, which is a leucine-rich repeat protein. Exposure to clothianidin, by enhancing the transcription of the gene encoding this inhibitor, reduces immune defenses and promotes the replication of the deformed wing virus in honey bees bearing covert infections. This honey bee immunosuppression is similarly induced by a different neonicotinoid, imidacloprid, but not by the organophosphate chlorpyriphos, which does not affect NF-κB signaling. The occurrence at sublethal doses of this insecticide-induced viral proliferation suggests that the studied neonicotinoids might have a negative effect at the field level. Our experiments uncover a further level of regulation of the immune response in insects and set the stage for studies on neural modulation of immunity in animals. Furthermore, this study has implications for the conservation of bees, as it will contribute to the definition of more appropriate guidelines for testing chronic or sublethal effects of pesticides used in agriculture.

Concepts: Immune system, Bacteria, Evolution, Insect, Vaccination, Honey bee, Insecticide, Neonicotinoid


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


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


An evaluation was made of the effects of seven neurotoxic insecticides (esfenvalerate, indoxacarb, clothianidin, thiacloprid, azinphosmethyl, phosmet and imidacloprid), one insect growth regulator (novaluron) and two fungicides (myclobutanin and mancozeb), with water as the control, on the horizontal mobility of plum curculios exposed to dried pesticide residues. Mobility was recorded over a 2 h period using ethological tracking software. Mortality was recorded immediately after horizontal mobility experiments and 24 h later.

Concepts: Sulfur, Pesticide, Insecticide, Insecticides, Neonicotinoid, Imidacloprid, Cinnamaldehyde, Phosmet


Neonicotinoids are widely used insecticides, but their use is subject of debate because of their detrimental effects on pollinators. Little is known about the effect of neonicotinoids on other beneficial insects such as parasitoid wasps, which serve as natural enemies and are crucial for ecosystem functioning. Here we show that sublethal doses of the neonicotinoid imidacloprid impair sexual communication and host finding in the parasitoid wasp Nasonia vitripennis. Depending on the dose, treated females were less responsive to the male sex pheromone or unable to use it as a cue at all. Courtship behaviour of treated couples was also impeded resulting in a reduction of mating rates by up to 80%. Moreover, treated females were no longer able to locate hosts by using olfactory cues. Olfaction is crucial for the reproductive success of parasitoid wasps. Hence, sublethal doses of neonicotinoids might compromise the function of parasitoid wasps as natural enemies with potentially dire consequences for ecosystem services.

Concepts: Male, Insect, Sex, Ant, Insecticide, Biological pest control, Neonicotinoid, Imidacloprid


Chronic exposure to neonicotinoid insecticides has been linked to reduced survival of pollinating insects at both the individual and colony level, but so far only experimentally. Analyses of large-scale datasets to investigate the real-world links between the use of neonicotinoids and pollinator mortality are lacking. Moreover, the impacts of neonicotinoid seed coatings in reducing subsequent applications of foliar insecticide sprays and increasing crop yield are not known, despite the supposed benefits of this practice driving widespread use. Here, we combine large-scale pesticide usage and yield observations from oilseed rape with those detailing honey bee colony losses over an 11 year period, and reveal a correlation between honey bee colony losses and national-scale imidacloprid (a neonicotinoid) usage patterns across England and Wales. We also provide the first evidence that farmers who use neonicotinoid seed coatings reduce the number of subsequent applications of foliar insecticide sprays and may derive an economic return. Our results inform the societal discussion on the pollinator costs and farming benefits of prophylactic neonicotinoid usage on a mass flowering crop.

Concepts: Insect, Beekeeping, Pollination, Flower, Pollinator decline, Insecticide, Neonicotinoid, Imidacloprid


Growing evidence for global pollinator decline is causing concern for biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services maintenance. Neonicotinoid pesticides have been identified or suspected as a key factor responsible for this decline. We assessed the global exposure of pollinators to neonicotinoids by analyzing 198 honey samples from across the world. We found at least one of five tested compounds (acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiacloprid, and thiamethoxam) in 75% of all samples, 45% of samples contained two or more of these compounds, and 10% contained four or five. Our results confirm the exposure of bees to neonicotinoids in their food throughout the world. The coexistence of neonicotinoids and other pesticides may increase harm to pollinators. However, the concentrations detected are below the maximum residue level authorized for human consumption (average ± standard error for positive samples: 1.8 ± 0.56 nanograms per gram).

Concepts: Biodiversity, Pollinator decline, Bee, Bumblebee, Pollinator, Insecticide, Neonicotinoid, Imidacloprid effects on bee population


Growing evidence for declines in bee populations has caused great concern because of the valuable ecosystem services they provide. Neonicotinoid insecticides have been implicated in these declines because they occur at trace levels in the nectar and pollen of crop plants. We exposed colonies of the bumble bee Bombus terrestris in the laboratory to field-realistic levels of the neonicotinoid imidacloprid, then allowed them to develop naturally under field conditions. Treated colonies had a significantly reduced growth rate and suffered an 85% reduction in production of new queens compared with control colonies. Given the scale of use of neonicotinoids, we suggest that they may be having a considerable negative impact on wild bumble bee populations across the developed world.

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


Recent studies have shown that neonicotinoid insecticides have adverse effects on non-target invertebrate species. Invertebrates constitute a substantial part of the diet of many bird species during the breeding season and are indispensable for raising offspring. We investigated the hypothesis that the most widely used neonicotinoid insecticide, imidacloprid, has a negative impact on insectivorous bird populations. Here we show that, in the Netherlands, local population trends were significantly more negative in areas with higher surface-water concentrations of imidacloprid. At imidacloprid concentrations of more than 20 nanograms per litre, bird populations tended to decline by 3.5 per cent on average annually. Additional analyses revealed that this spatial pattern of decline appeared only after the introduction of imidacloprid to the Netherlands, in the mid-1990s. We further show that the recent negative relationship remains after correcting for spatial differences in land-use changes that are known to affect bird populations in farmland. Our results suggest that the impact of neonicotinoids on the natural environment is even more substantial than has recently been reported and is reminiscent of the effects of persistent insecticides in the past. Future legislation should take into account the potential cascading effects of neonicotinoids on ecosystems.

Concepts: Biology, Insect, Bird, Invertebrate, Insecticide, Pesticide toxicity to bees, Neonicotinoid, Imidacloprid


Understanding the effects of neonicotinoid insecticides on bees is vital because of reported declines in bee diversity and distribution and the crucial role bees have as pollinators in ecosystems and agriculture. Neonicotinoids are suspected to pose an unacceptable risk to bees, partly because of their systemic uptake in plants, and the European Union has therefore introduced a moratorium on three neonicotinoids as seed coatings in flowering crops that attract bees. The moratorium has been criticized for being based on weak evidence, particularly because effects have mostly been measured on bees that have been artificially fed neonicotinoids. Thus, the key question is how neonicotinoids influence bees, and wild bees in particular, in real-world agricultural landscapes. Here we show that a commonly used insecticide seed coating in a flowering crop can have serious consequences for wild bees. In a study with replicated and matched landscapes, we found that seed coating with Elado, an insecticide containing a combination of the neonicotinoid clothianidin and the non-systemic pyrethroid β-cyfluthrin, applied to oilseed rape seeds, reduced wild bee density, solitary bee nesting, and bumblebee colony growth and reproduction under field conditions. Hence, such insecticidal use can pose a substantial risk to wild bees in agricultural landscapes, and the contribution of pesticides to the global decline of wild bees may have been underestimated. The lack of a significant response in honeybee colonies suggests that reported pesticide effects on honeybees cannot always be extrapolated to wild bees.

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