Interactive effects of pesticide exposure and pathogen infection on bee health - a critical analysis

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Bees are fundamentally important for pollination services and declines in populations could have significant economic and environmental implications. Pesticide exposure and pathogen infection are recognised as potential stressors impacting upon bee populations and recently there has been a surge in research on pesticide–disease interactions to reflect environmentally realistic scenarios better. We critically analyse the findings on pesticide–disease interactions, including effects on the survival, pathogen loads and immunity of bees, and assess the suitability of various endpoints to inform our mechanistic understanding of these interactions. We show that pesticide exposure and pathogen infection have not yet been found to interact to affect worker survival under field-realistic scenarios. Colony-level implications of pesticide effects on Nosema infections, viral loads and honey bee immunity remain unclear as these effects have been observed in a laboratory setting only using a small range of pesticide exposures, generally exceeding those likely to occur in the natural environment, and assessing a highly selected series of immune-related endpoints. Future research priorities include the need for a better understanding of pesticide effects on the antimicrobial peptide (AMP) component of an individual's immune response and on social defence behaviours. Interactions between pesticide exposure and bacterial and fungal infections have yet to be addressed. The paucity of studies in non-Apis bee species is a further major knowledge gap.

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