Effect of repeated intakes of a neonicotinoid insecticide on the foraging behaviours of Apis mellifera in field trials.
Evaluating the effects of neonicotinoids on forager bees in conditions as near as possible to those in nature presents a considerable challenge. Tackling this challenge is, however, necessary to establish their negative side effects on these pollinators. For instance, it is still under debate the mechanism by which bees seem to recognize low-level contaminations of neonicotinoid insecticides in nectar and pollen of the flowers they visit and limit collection to protect themselves and their hive from a possible intoxication. In this study, we propose an experimental system that involves the use of foragers in free flight foraging repeatedly on artificial feeders containing a sucrose solution contaminated with clothianidin, as well as foragers feeding at adjacent control feeders, allowing us to observe changes in their foraging activity. The progressive disappearance of foragers from the contaminated feeders became increasingly clear and rapid with the increase in clothianidin concentration. The lowest concentration at which we observed an effect was around 10 µg/L, which corresponds to the maximum residual concentration (10 ng/g) observed in pollen and nectar of flowers close to open fields sown with seeds coated with insecticides. At the highest concentrations tested (80 µg/L), there was an almost total abandonment of the feeders. The estimated quantity of contaminated sucrose solution collected by foragers showed an almost linear relationship inversely proportional to clothianidin concentration, whilst the estimated quantity of insecticide collected by a forager increased and then stabilised at the highest concentrations tested of 40 and 80 µg/L. Irregular mortality was not observed in front of the hives, furthermore, foragers did not show evident memory of the position of the treated units in the trials on the 2 consecutive days. The decrease in foraging activity in the presence of a few µg/L of insecticide in the sucrose solution appears to limit the introduction of elevated amounts of toxic substances into the hives, which would have serious consequences for the young bees and the brood. At the same time, in the absence of an alternative energy source, even reduced feeding of the hive can compromise colony health.