For the past decade, migratory beekeepers who provide honey bees for pollination services have experienced substantial colony losses on a recurring basis that have been attributed in part to exposure to insecticides, fungicides, or their combinations applied to crops. The phytochemicals p-coumaric acid and quercetin, which occur naturally in a wide variety of bee foods, including beebread and many types of honey, can enhance adult bee longevity and reduce the toxicity of certain pesticides. How variation in concentrations of natural dietary constituents affects interactions with xenobiotics, including synthetic pesticides, encountered in agroecosystems remains an open question. We tested the effects of these two phytochemicals at a range of natural concentrations on impacts of consuming propiconazole and chlorantraniliprole, a triazole fungicide and an insecticide frequently applied as a tank mix to almond trees during bloom in California’s Central Valley. Propiconazole, even at low field concentrations, significantly reduced survival and longevity when consumed by adult bees in a sugar-based diet. The effects of propiconazole in combination with chlorantraniliprole enhanced mortality risk. The detrimental effects of the two pesticides were for the most part reduced when either or both of the phytochemicals were present in the diet. These findings suggest that honey bees may depend on non-nutritive but physiologically active phytochemical components of their natural foods for ameliorating xenobiotic stress, although only over a certain range of concentrations; particularly at the high end of the natural range, certain combinations can incur additive toxicity. Thus, efforts to develop nectar or pollen substitutes with phytochemicals to boost insecticide tolerance or immunity or to evaluate toxicity of pesticides to pollinators should take concentration-dependent effects of phytochemicals into consideration.
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