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PeerJ. 2019 Aug 12;7:e7208. doi: 10.7717/peerj.7208. eCollection 2019.

No evidence for negative impacts of acute sulfoxaflor exposure on bee olfactory conditioning or working memory.

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School of Biological Sciences, Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, UK.
Contributed equally


Systemic insecticides such as neonicotinoids and sulfoximines can be present in the nectar and pollen of treated crops, through which foraging bees can become acutely exposed. Research has shown that acute, field realistic dosages of neonicotinoids can negatively influence bee learning and memory, with potential consequences for bee behaviour. As legislative reassessment of neonicotinoid use occurs globally, there is an urgent need to understand the potential risk of other systemic insecticides. Sulfoxaflor, the first branded sulfoximine-based insecticide, has the same mode of action as neonicotinoids, and may potentially replace them over large geographical ranges. Here we assessed the impact of acute sulfoxaflor exposure on performance in two paradigms that have previously been used to illustrate negative impacts of neonicotinoid pesticides on bee learning and memory. We assayed whether acute sulfoxaflor exposure influences (a) olfactory conditioning performance in both bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) and honeybees (Apis mellifera), using a proboscis extension reflex assay, and (b) working memory performance of bumblebees, using a radial-arm maze. We found no evidence to suggest that sulfoxaflor influenced performance in either paradigm. Our results suggest that despite a shared mode of action between sulfoxaflor and neonicotinoid-based insecticides, widely-documented effects of neonicotinoids on bee cognition may not be observed with sulfoxaflor, at least at acute exposure regimes.


Bumblebees; Honeybee; Insecticide; Memory; Neonicotinoid; Radial-arm maze; Spatial-working memory; Sulfoxaflor; Sulfoximine

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare there are no competing interests.

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