Abstract 1. Nosema bombi is a microsporidian parasite of bumblebees that is of potentially great ecological and economic importance. Nosema bombi has been shown to have detrimental fitness effects on the bumblebee Bombus terrestris under laboratory conditions. The present study investigates whether N. bombi also has negative fitness effects under natural conditions.

2. A field experiment was conducted with B. terrestris spring queens caught from the wild. In the laboratory these queens were assigned to either infected or control treatment groups. On the emergence of workers, colonies were placed in the field and a number of fitness and life-history traits were measured.

3. The size of colonies produced by infected queens was significantly smaller than those of control queens. None of the 14 infected colonies produced sexual offspring, whereas four of the 14 control colonies reached the male production stage. Results of the field experiment are in agreement with prior laboratory-based results, and even imply that such effects are amplified under natural conditions.

4. The evidence suggests that, on entering the colony early, N. bombi has a highly detrimental effect on the fitness of its host. It would seem that this parasite reduces its opportunities to transmit into the next host generation.