Sublethal neonicotinoid insecticide exposure reduces solitary bee reproductive success



  1. Pollinating insects provide crucial and economically important ecosystem services to crops and wild plants, but pollinators, particularly bees, are globally declining as a result of various driving factors, including the prevalent use of pesticides for crop protection. Sublethal pesticide exposure negatively impacts numerous pollinator life-history traits, but its influence on reproductive success remains largely unknown. Such information is pivotal, however, to our understanding of the long-term effects on population dynamics.
  2. We investigated the influence of field-realistic trace residues of the routinely used neonicotinoid insecticides thiamethoxam and clothianidin in nectar substitutes on the entire life-time fitness performance of the red mason bee Osmia bicornis.
  3. We show that chronic, dietary neonicotinoid exposure has severe detrimental effects on solitary bee reproductive output. Neonicotinoids did not affect adult bee mortality; however, monitoring of fully controlled experimental populations revealed that sublethal exposure resulted in almost 50% reduced total offspring production and a significantly male-biased offspring sex ratio.
  4. Our data add to the accumulating evidence indicating that sublethal neonicotinoid effects on non-Apis pollinators are expressed most strongly in a rather complex, fitness-related context. Consequently, to fully mitigate long-term impacts on pollinator population dynamics, present pesticide risk assessments need to be expanded to include whole life-cycle fitness estimates, as demonstrated in the present study using O. bicornis as a model.