Sulfoxaflor exposure reduces bumblebee reproductive success

Harry Siviter*, Mark J.F. Brown, Ellouise Leadbeater

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

155 Citations (Scopus)


Intensive agriculture currently relies on pesticides to maximize crop yield1,2. Neonicotinoids are the most widely used insecticides globally3, but increasing evidence of negative impacts on important pollinators4–9 and other non-target organisms10 has led to legislative reassessment and created demand for the development of alternative products. Sulfoximine-based insecticides are the most likely successor11, and are either licensed for use or under consideration for licensing in several worldwide markets3, including within the European Union12, where certain neonicotinoids (imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam) are now banned from agricultural use outside of permanent greenhouse structures. There is an urgent need to pre-emptively evaluate the potential sub-lethal effects of sulfoximine-based pesticides on pollinators11, because such effects are rarely detected by standard ecotoxicological assessments, but can have major impacts at larger ecological scales13–15. Here we show that chronic exposure to the sulfoximine-based insecticide sulfoxaflor, at dosages consistent with potential post-spray field exposure, has severe sub-lethal effects on bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) colonies. Field-based colonies that were exposed to sulfoxaflor during the early growth phase produced significantly fewer workers than unexposed controls, and ultimately produced fewer reproductive offspring. Differences between the life-history trajectories of treated and control colonies first became apparent when individuals exposed as larvae began to emerge, suggesting that direct or indirect effects on a small cohort may have cumulative long-term consequences for colony fitness. Our results caution against the use of sulfoximines as a direct replacement for neonicotinoids. To avoid continuing cycles of novel pesticide release and removal, with concomitant impacts on the environment, a broad evidence base needs to be assessed prior to the development of policy and regulation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-112
Number of pages4
Issue number7721
Publication statusPublished - 6 Sept 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements We thank E. Bailes, J. Bagi, J. Blackwell, A. Folly, C. Martin, A. Samuelson, K. Liu, M. Burke, S. Cobacho Jimenez and E. Wrake for technical assistance in the field and laboratory; Natural England and the Crown Estate for permission to collect bumblebees from Windsor Great Park. H.S. was supported by a Royal Holloway University of London Reid PhD Scholarship and by contributions from High Wickham Beekeeper’s Association. This project has received funding from the European Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no.773921. E.L. was supported by European Research Council Starting Grant BeeDanceGap (638873).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, Springer Nature Limited.


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