Behavioral responses of honey bees (Apis mellifera) to natural and synthetic xenobiotics in food

Ling Hsiu Liao, Wen Yen Wu, May R. Berenbaum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While the natural foods of the western honey bee (Apis mellifera) contain diverse phytochemicals, in contemporary agroecosystems honey bees also encounter pesticides as floral tissue contaminants. Whereas some ubiquitous phytochemicals in bee foods up-regulate detoxification and immunity genes, thereby benefiting nestmates, many agrochemical pesticides adversely affect bee health even at sublethal levels. How honey bees assess xenobiotic risk to nestmates as they forage is poorly understood. Accordingly, we tested nine phytochemicals ubiquitous in nectar, pollen, or propolis, as well as five synthetic xenobiotics that frequently contaminate hives-two herbicides (atrazine and glyphosate) and three fungicides (boscalid, chlorothalonil, and prochloraz). In semi-field free-flight experiments, bees were offered a choice between paired sugar water feeders amended with either a xenobiotic or solvent only (control). Among the phytochemicals, foragers consistently preferred quercetin at all five concentrations tested, as evidenced by both visitation frequency and consumption rates. This preference may reflect the long evolutionary association between honey bees and floral tissues. Of pesticides eliciting a response, bees displayed a preference at specific concentrations for glyphosate and chlorothalonil. This paradoxical preference may account for the frequency with which these pesticides occur as hive contaminants and suggests that they present a greater risk factor for honey bee health than previously suspected.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number15924
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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