Chronic exposure to trace lead impairs honey bee learning

Coline Monchanin*, Amaury Blanc-Brude, Erwann Drujont, Mohammed Mustafa Negahi, Cristian Pasquaretta, Jérôme Silvestre, David Baqué, Arnaud Elger, Andrew B. Barron, Jean Marc Devaud, Mathieu Lihoreau*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
147 Downloads (Pure)


Pollutants can have severe detrimental effects on insects, even at sublethal doses, damaging developmental and cognitive processes involved in crucial behaviours. Agrochemicals have been identified as important causes of pollinator declines, but the impacts of other anthropogenic compounds, such as metallic trace elements in soils and waters, have received considerably less attention. Here, we exposed colonies of the European honey bee Apis mellifera to chronic field-realistic concentrations of lead in food and demonstrated that consumption of this trace element impaired bee cognition and morphological development. Honey bees exposed to the highest of these low concentrations had reduced olfactory learning performances. These honey bees also developed smaller heads, which may have constrained their cognitive functions as we show a general relationship between head size and learning performance. Our results demonstrate that lead pollutants, even at trace levels, can have dramatic effects on honey bee cognitive abilities, potentially altering key colony functions and the pollination service.

Original languageEnglish
Article number112008
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalEcotoxicology and Environmental Safety
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2021. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Apis mellifera
  • Heavy metal pollution
  • Morphometry
  • PER conditioning
  • Reversal learning


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