Imidacloprid slows the development of preference for rewarding food sources in bumblebees (Bombus impatiens)
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Bee pollination is economically and ecologically vital and recent declines in bee populations are therefore a concern. One possible cause of bee declines is pesticide use. Bumblebees exposed to imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid pesticide, have been shown to be less efficient foragers and collect less pollen on foraging trips than unexposed bees. We investigated whether bumblebees (Bombus impatiens) chronically exposed to imidacloprid at field-realistic levels of 2.6 and 10 ppb showed learning deficits that could affect foraging. Bumblebees were tested for their ability to associate flower colour with reward value in a simulated foraging environment. Bumblebees completed 10 foraging trips in which they collected sucrose solution from artificial flowers that varied in sucrose concentration. The reward quality of each artificial flower was predicted by corolla colour. Unexposed bumblebees acquired a preference for feeding on the most rewarding flower colour on the second foraging trip, while bumblebees exposed at 2.6 and 10 ppb did not until their third and fifth trip, respectively. The delay in preference acquisition in exposed bumblebees may be due to reduced flower sampling and shorter foraging trips. These results show that bumblebees exposed to imidacloprid are slow to learn the reward value of flowers and this may explain previously observed foraging inefficiencies associated with pesticide exposure.