Can Bees Detect Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS)?

By Carolyn A Sonter, Matthew Tighe, Romina Rader, and Susan C Wilson
Environ Toxicol Chem
May 9, 2024
DOI: 10.1002/etc.5881

The European honey bee (Apis mellifera) is an important crop pollinator threatened by multiple stressors, including exposure to contaminants. Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) is a persistent global contaminant that accumulates and biomagnifies in food chains and is detected in honey. Even sublethal exposure to PFOS is detrimental to bee health, but exposure routes are unclear and nothing is known about bee response (detection, avoidance, or attraction) to PFOS. Using Y-mazes, we studied the response of individual bees to PFOS-spiked sugar syrup at four concentrations, 0.02, 30, 61 and 103 µg L. Bee activity, choice behavior, and drink duration for unspiked and spiked sugar syrup was recorded for 10 min in the Y-maze system. Most bees (≥80%) tasted and then drank the sugar syrup solutions, including the PFOS-contaminated syrup. Only at 61 and 103 µg L did bees significantly avoid drinking PFOS-spiked syrup, and only when given a choice with unspiked syrup. When the choice of consuming unspiked syrup was removed, the bees drank PFOS-spiked syrup at all the PFOS concentrations tested, and avoidance was not evident. Avoidance was not observed in any treatment at 0.02 or 30 µg L PFOS, concentrations that are frequently reported in environmental waters in contaminated areas. These findings confirm that bees will access PFOS-contaminated resources at concentrations detrimental to the colony health, and provide evidence of potential exposure pathways that may threaten crop pollination services and also human health via food chain transfer in PFOS-contaminated areas. Environ Toxicol Chem 2024;00:1-10. © 2024 SETAC.

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