Synergistic effects of pathogen and pesticide exposure on honey bee (Apis mellifera) survival and immunity

Julia Grassl, Shannon Holt, Naomi Cremen, Marianne Peso, Dorothee Hahne, Boris Baer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


Declines in native insect pollinator populations and substantial losses in managed honey bees have been reported on a global scale and become a widespread concern because of the importance of these insects for human food production and ecosystem stability. Several potential factors have been studied as possible causes of declining pollinator health, such as parasites and pathogens, exposure to agricultural pesticides, habitat loss and/or climate change. More recently, a combination of these factors rather than a single cause have been blamed for observed pollinator losses, but field studies of such interactions are challenging, especially in the presence of confounding environmental stressors. We therefore examined the impact of single and combined stressors on the honey bee (Apis mellifera) in a generally healthy Australian population. We exposed workers during their larval development and drones until they reached sexual maturity to the neonicotinoid pesticide Thiamethoxam, at concentrations more than 20 times lower than we initially measured in the field, the microsporidian gut pathogen Nosema apis or both stressors at the same time. We found that simultaneous exposure significantly reduced bee health. We observed a substantial increase in mortality and a reduction of immunocompetence in workers exposed to both the pathogen and the pesticide. We conclude that the exposure of generally healthy bees to multiple environmental stressors results in synergistic effects where the effects are expected to negatively impact performance and could be sufficient to trigger colony collapse. We found that the vast majority of males did not survive to sexual maturity after exposure to very low levels of Thiamethoxam. This would not only reduce the reproductive success of individual colonies, but can also impact gene flow and genetic diversity at the population level, which are both known as key components of honey bee health.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)78-86
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Invertebrate Pathology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2018


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