Recent concern over global pollinator declines has led to considerable research on the effects of pesticides on bees1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Although pesticides are typically not encountered at lethal levels in the field, there is growing evidence indicating that exposure to field-realistic levels can have sublethal effects on bees, affecting their foraging behaviour1, 6, 7, homing ability8, 9 and reproductive success2, 5. Bees are essential for the pollination of a wide variety of crops and the majority of wild flowering plants10, 11, 12, but until now research on pesticide effects has been limited to direct effects on bees themselves and not on the pollination services they provide. Here we show the first evidence to our knowledge that pesticide exposure can reduce the pollination services bumblebees deliver to apples, a crop of global economic importance. Bumblebee colonies exposed to a neonicotinoid pesticide provided lower visitation rates to apple trees and collected pollen less often. Most importantly, these pesticide-exposed colonies produced apples containing fewer seeds, demonstrating a reduced delivery of pollination services. Our results also indicate that reduced pollination service delivery is not due to pesticide-induced changes in individual bee behaviour, but most likely due to effects at the colony level. These findings show that pesticide exposure can impair the ability of bees to provide pollination services, with important implications for both the sustained delivery of stable crop yields and the functioning of natural ecosystems.
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Extended data figures and tables
Extended Data Figures
- Extended Data Figure 1: An example of the experimental setup at the Sonning Farm field site. (284 KB)
Experimental pollinator exclusion cages containing a bumblebee colony (located in the corner of the cage) and potted experimental apple trees are shown. Photos: D.A.S.
Extended Data Tables
- Supplementary Information (127 KB)
This file contains Supplementary text and references.