Glyphosate impairs aversive learning in bumblebees
2023-11, Nouvian, Morgane, Foster, James J., Weidenmüller, Anja
Agrochemicals represent prominent anthropogenic stressors contributing to the ongoing global insect decline. While their impact is generally assessed in terms of mortality rates, non-lethal effects on fitness are equally important to insect conservation. Glyphosate, a commonly used herbicide, is toxic to many animal species, and thought to impact a range of physiological functions. In this study, we investigate the impact of long-term exposure to glyphosate on locomotion, phototaxis and learning abilities in bumblebees, using a fully automated high-throughput assay. We find that glyphosate exposure had a very slight and transient impact on locomotion, while leaving the phototactic drive unaffected. Glyphosate exposure also reduced attraction towards UV light when blue was given as an alternative and, most strikingly, impaired learning of aversive stimuli. Thus, glyphosate had specific actions on sensory and cognitive processes. These non-lethal perceptual and cognitive impairments likely represent a significant obstacle to foraging and predator avoidance for wild bumblebees exposed to glyphosate. Similar effects in other species could contribute to a widespread reduction in foraging efficiency across ecosystems, driven by the large-scale application of this herbicide. The high-throughput paradigm presented in this study can be adapted to investigate sublethal effects of other agrochemicals on bumblebees or other important pollinator species, opening up a critical new avenue for the study of anthropogenic stressors.