Impact of insecticidal proteins expressed in transgenic plants on bumblebee microcolonies


*Correspondence: E-mail:


In order to assess the risk that insecticidal transgenic plants may pose for bumblebees, we tested whether Bombus terrestris (L.) (Hymenoptera: Apidae) workers are able to detect insecticidal proteins dissolved in sucrose solution and whether consumption of these proteins will affect survival and offspring production. Feeders containing either Bacillus thuringiensis toxin (Cry1Ab), Kunitz soybean trypsin inhibitor (SBTI), or Galanthus nivalis agglutinin (GNA) were offered to bumblebee colonies at low (0.01% wt/vol for SBTI and GNA, 0.001% for Cry1Ab) and high concentrations (0.1% for SBTI and GNA, 0.01% for Cry1Ab) together with a control (pure sucrose solution) in a glasshouse chamber. No difference was found in the number of visits and the duration of visits among the different concentrations for each of the insecticidal proteins, indicating that bumblebees do not discriminate the compounds. To investigate the impact of the different insecticidal proteins on B. terrestris, microcolonies were established by placing three newly emerged bumblebee workers in wooden boxes. Within a few days, a hierarchy in each microcolony was established and the dominant worker developed its ovaries and laid haploid eggs. Bumblebees were fed with Cry1Ab (0.01%), SBTI, or GNA (both at 0.01 and 0.1%) dissolved in sucrose solution and also fed mixed floral pollen for a maximum period of 80 days. Additionally, microcolonies with three drones each were established to measure individual bee longevity. While the Cry1Ab did not affect microcolony performance, the consumption of SBTI and especially GNA affected survival of B. terrestris workers and drones and caused a significant reduction in the number of offspring. The use of microcolonies appears to be well-suited to measure lethal and sublethal effects of insecticidal proteins expressed in transgenic plants on bumblebees.