A deeper understanding of system interactions can explain contradictory field results on pesticide impact on honey bees

Dimitri Breda, Davide Frizzera, Giulia Giordano, Elisa Seffin, Virginia Zanni, Desiderato Annoscia, Christopher John Topping, Franco Blanchini, Francesco Nazzi

    Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review

    Abstract

    While there is widespread concern regarding the impact of pesticides on honey bees, well-replicated field experiments, to date, have failed to provide clear insights on pesticide effects. Here, we adopt a systems biology approach to gain insights into the web of interactions amongst the factors influencing honey bee health. We put the focus on the properties of the system that depend upon its architecture and not on the strength, often unknown, of each single interaction. Then we test in vivo, on caged honey bees, the predictions derived from this modelling analysis. We show that the impact of toxic compounds on honey bee health can be shaped by the concurrent stressors affecting bees. We demonstrate that the immune-suppressive capacity of the widespread pathogen of bees, deformed wing virus, can introduce a critical positive feed-back loop in the system causing bistability, i.e., two stable equilibria. Therefore, honey bees under similar initial conditions can experience different consequences when exposed to the same stressor, including prolonged survival or premature death. The latter can generate an increased vulnerability of the hive to dwindling and collapse. Our conclusions reconcile contrasting field-testing outcomes and have important implications for the application of field studies to complex systems.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number5720
    JournalNature Communications
    Volume13
    Issue1
    Number of pages13
    ISSN2041-1723
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2022

    Keywords

    • honey bee
    • Environmental risk assessment (ERA)
    • honey bee health
    • complexity
    • agroecology
    • system interactions
    • pesticide impact

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