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There is increasing worldwide concern about the impacts of pesticide residues on honey bees and bee colony survival, but how sublethal effects of pesticides on bees might cause colony failure remains highly controversial, with field data giving very mixed results. To explore how trace levels of the neonicotinoid pesticide imidacloprid impacted colony foraging performance, we equipped bees with RFID tags that allowed us to track their lifetime flight behavior. One group of bees was exposed to a trace concentration (5 μg/kg, ppb) of imidacloprid in sugar syrup while in the larval stage. The imidacloprid residues caused bees to start foraging when younger as adults and perform fewer orientation flights, and reduced their lifetime foraging flights by 28%. The magnitude of the effects of a trace imidacloprid concentration delivered only during larval stage highlights the severity of pesticide residues for bee foraging performance. Our data suggest that neonicotinoids could impact colony function by imbalancing the normal age based division of labor in a colony and reducing foraging efficiency. Understanding this mechanism will help the development of interventions to safeguard bee colony health.
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