Insects play an important role in the stability of ecosystems by fulfilling key functions such as pollination and nutrient cycling, as well as acting as prey for amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. The global decline of insects is therefore a cause for concern, and the role of chemical pesticides must be examined carefully. The lethal effects of insecticides are well understood, but sub-lethal concentrations have not been studied in sufficient detail. We therefore used the western honeybee Apis mellifera
as a model to test the effect of the neonicotinoid insecticide clothianidin on the movement, biosensory abilities and odor-dependent conditioning of insects, titrating from lethal to sub-lethal doses. Bees treated with sub-lethal doses showed no significant movement impairment compared to untreated control bees, but their ability to react to an aversive stimulus was inhibited. These results show that clothianidin is not only highly toxic to honeybees, but can, at lower doses, also disrupt the biosensory capabilities of survivors, probably reducing fitness at the individual level. In our study, sub-lethal doses of clothianidin altered the biosensory abilities of the honeybee; possible consequences at the colony level are discussed.
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