University of Oulu

Helander, M., Lehtonen, T. K., Saikkonen, K., Despains, L., Nyckees, D., Antinoja, A., Solvi, C., & Loukola, O. J. (2023). Field-realistic acute exposure to glyphosate-based herbicide impairs fine-color discrimination in bumblebees. Science of The Total Environment, 857, 159298.

Field-realistic acute exposure to glyphosate-based herbicide impairs fine-color discrimination in bumblebees

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Author: Helander, Marjo1; Lehtonen, Topi K.2,3; Saikkonen, Kari4;
Organizations: 1Department of Biology, University of Turku, FI-20014 Turku, Finland
2Ecology and Genetics Research Unit, University of Oulu, FI-90570 Oulu, Finland
3Natural Resources Institute Finland, FI-90570 Oulu, Finland
4Biodiversity Unit, University of Turku, FI-20014 Turku, Finland
5Centre de Recherches sur la Cognition Animale, Centre de Biologie Intégrative, Université de Toulouse, CNRS, UPS, 118 route de Narbonne, F-31062 Toulouse cedex 9, France
6Laboratory of Entomology, Wageningen University, 6700 AA Wageningen, the Netherlands
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.8 MB)
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: Elsevier, 2023
Publish Date: 2023-08-09


Pollinator decline is a grave challenge worldwide. One of the main culprits for this decline is the widespread use of, and pollinators’ chronic exposure to, agrochemicals. Here, we examined the effect of a field-realistic dose of the world’s most commonly used pesticide, glyphosate-based herbicide (GBH), on bumblebee cognition. We experimentally tested bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) color and scent discrimination using acute GBH exposure, approximating a field-realistic dose from a day’s foraging in a patch recently sprayed with GBH. In a 10-color discrimination experiment with five learning bouts, GBH treated bumblebees’ learning rate fell to zero by third learning bout, whereas the control bees increased their performance in the last two bouts. In the memory test, the GBH treated bumblebees performed to near chance level, indicating that they had lost everything they had learned during the learning bouts, while the control bees were performing close to the level in their last learning bout. However, GBH did not affect bees’ learning in a 2-color or 10-odor discrimination experiment, which suggests that the impact is limited to fine color learning and does not necessarily generalize to less specific tasks or other modalities. These results indicate that the widely used pesticide damages bumblebees’ fine-color discrimination, which is essential to the pollinator’s individual success and to colony fitness in complex foraging environments. Hence, our study suggests that acute sublethal exposure to GBH poses a greater threat to pollination-based ecosystem services than previously thought, and that tests for learning and memory should be integrated into pesticide risk assessment.

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Series: Science of the total environment
ISSN: 0048-9697
ISSN-E: 1879-1026
ISSN-L: 0048-9697
Volume: 857
Article number: 159298
DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.159298
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 1181 Ecology, evolutionary biology
Funding: This work was supported by the Academy of Finland (grant number 309995 to OJL, grant number 311077 to MH) and the Kone Foundation (grant number 202010852 to OJL).
Academy of Finland Grant Number: 309995
Detailed Information: 309995 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
311077 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
Copyright information: © 2022 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (