Endocrine disruption and chronic effects of plant protection products in bees: Can we better protect our pollinators?
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Exposure to plant protection products (PPPs) is one of the causes for the population decline of pollinators. In addition to direct exposure, pollinators are exposed to PPPs by pollen, nectar and honey that often contain residues of multiple PPPs. While in legislation PPPs are regarded mainly for their acute toxicity in bees, other effects such as neurotoxicity, immunotoxicity, behavioural changes, stress responses and chronic effects that may harm different physiologically and ecologically relevant traits are much less or not regarded. Despite the fact that endocrine disruption by PPPs is among key effects weakening survival and thriving of populations, pollinators have been poorly investigated in this regard. Here we summarize known endocrine disruptive effects of PPPs in bees and compare them to other chronic effects. Endocrine disruption in honey bees comprise negative effects on reproductive success of queens and drones and behavioural transition of nurse bees to foragers. Among identified PPPs are insecticides, including neonicotinoids, fipronil, chlorantraniliprole and azadirachtin. So far, there exists no OECD guideline to investigate possible endocrine effects of PPPs. Admittedly, investigation of effects on reproduction success of queens and drones is rarely possible under laboratory conditions. But the behavioural transition of nurse bees to foragers could be a possible endpoint to analyse endocrine effects of PPPs under laboratory conditions. We identified some genes, including vitellogenin, which regulate this transition and which may be used as biomarkers for endocrine disruptive PPPs. We plea for a better implementation of the adverse outcome pathway concept into bee's research and propose a procedure for extending and complementing current assessments, including OECD guidelines, with additional physiological and molecular endpoints. Consequently, assessing potential endocrine disruption in pollinators should receive much more relevance.