Journal of Applied Ecology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Ecological Society. The ability to forage and return home is essential to the success of bees as both foragers and pollinators. Pesticide exposure may cause behavioural changes that interfere with these processes, with consequences for colony persistence and delivery of pollination services. We investigated the impact of chronic exposure (5–43 days) to field-realistic levels of a neonicotinoid insecticide (2·4 ppb thiamethoxam) on foraging ability, homing success and colony size using radio frequency identification (RFID) technology in free-flying bumblebee colonies. Individual foragers from pesticide-exposed colonies carried out longer foraging bouts than untreated controls (68 vs. 55 min). Pesticide-exposed bees also brought back pollen less frequently than controls indicating reduced foraging performance. A higher proportion of bees from pesticide-exposed colonies returned when released 1 km from their nests; this is potentially related to increased orientation experience during longer foraging bouts. We measured no impact of pesticide exposure on homing ability for bees released from 2 km, or when data were analysed overall. Despite a trend for control colonies to produce more new workers earlier, we found no overall impacts of pesticide exposure on whole colony size. Synthesis and applications. This study shows that field-realistic neonicotinoid exposure can have impacts on both foraging ability and homing success of bumblebees, with implications for the success of bumblebee colonies in agricultural landscapes and their ability to deliver crucial pollination services. Pesticide risk assessments should include bee species other than honeybees and assess a range of behaviours to elucidate the impact of sublethal effects. This has relevance for reviews of neonicotinoid risk assessment and usage policy world-wide.

Document Type




Rights Information

© 2016 The Authors. "Journal of Applied Ecology" published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Ecological Society. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution andreproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


agrochemical, bumble bee Bombus terrestris, flower-visiting insects, insecticide, navigation, neonicotinoids, pesticide exposure, pollination, RFID tagging

Publication Date


Journal Title

Journal of Applied Ecology