Abstract

Insecticides are contributing to global insect declines, thereby creating demand to understand the mechanisms underlying reduced fitness. In the eusocial Hymenoptera, inclusive fitness depends on successful mating of male sexuals (drones) and efficient collaborative brood care by female workers. Therefore, sublethal insecticide effects on sperm and glands used in larval feeding (hypopharyngeal glands (HPG)) would provide key mechanisms for population declines in eusocial insects. However, while negative impacts for bumblebee colony fitness have been documented, the effects of insecticide exposure on individual physiology are less well understood. Here, we show that field-realistic concentrations (4.5-40 ng ml-1) of the neonicotinoid insecticide thiamethoxam significantly impair Bombus terrestris sperm and HPGs, thereby providing plausible mechanisms underlying bumblebee population decline. In the laboratory, drones and workers were exposed to five thiamethoxam concentrations (4.5 to 1000 ng ml-1). Then, survival, food consumption, body mass, HPG development, sperm quantity and viability were assessed. At all concentrations, drones were more exposed than workers due to higher food consumption. Increased body mass was observed in drones starting at 20 ng ml-1 and in workers at 100 ng ml-1. Furthermore, environmentally realistic concentrations (4.5-40 ng ml-1) did not significantly affect survival or consumption for either sex. However, thiamethoxam exposure significantly negatively affected both sperm viability and HPG development at all tested concentrations. Therefore, the results indicate a trade-off between survival and fitness components, possibly due to costly detoxification. Since sperm and HPG are corner stones of colony fitness, the data offer plausible mechanisms for bumblebee population declines. To adequately mitigate ongoing biodiversity declines for the eusocial insects, this study suggests it is essential to evaluate the impact of insecticides on fitness parameters of both sexuals and workers.

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