Many insect species, including social insects, are currently declining in abundance and diversity. Pollutants such as pesticides, heavy metals, or airborne fine particulate matter from agricultural and industrial sources are among the factors driving this decline. While these pollutants can have direct detrimental effects, they can also result in negative interactive effects when social insects are simultaneously exposed to multiple stressors. For example, sublethal effects of pollutants can increase the disease susceptibility of social insects, and thereby jeopardize their survival. Here we review how pesticides, heavy metals, or airborne fine particulate matter interact with social insect physiology and especially the insects’ immune system. We then give an overview of the current knowledge of the interactive effects of these pollutants with pathogens or parasites. While the effects of pesticide exposure on social insects and their interactions with pathogens have been relatively well studied, the effects of other pollutants, such as heavy metals in soil or fine particulate matter from combustion, vehicular transport, agriculture, and coal mining are still largely unknown. We therefore provide an overview of urgently needed knowledge in order to mitigate the decline of social insects.
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