Publication Date


Journal or Book Title

PLoS One


The impact of consuming biologically active compounds is often dose-dependent, where small quantities can be medicinal while larger doses are toxic. The consumption of plant secondary compounds can be toxic to herbivores in large doses, but can also improve survival in parasitized herbivores. In addition, recent studies have found that consuming nectar secondary compounds may decrease parasite loads in pollinators. However, the effect of compound dose on bee survival and parasite loads has not been assessed. To determine how secondary compound consumption affects survival and pathogen load in Bombus impatiens, we manipulated the presence of a common gut parasite, Crithidia bombi, and dietary concentration of anabasine, a nectar alkaloid produced by Nicotiana spp. using four concentrations naturally observed in floral nectar. We hypothesized that increased consumption of secondary compounds at concentrations found in nature would decrease survival of uninfected bees, but improve survival and ameliorate parasite loads in infected bees. We found medicinal effects of anabasine in infected bees; the high-anabasine diet decreased parasite loads and increased the probability of clearing the infection entirely. However, survival time was not affected by any level of anabasine concentration, or by interactive effects of anabasine concentration and infection. Crithidia infection reduced survival time by more than two days, but this effect was not significant. Our results support a medicinal role for anabasine at the highest concentration; moreover, we found no evidence for a survival-related cost of anabasine consumption across the concentration range found in nectar. Our results suggest that consuming anabasine at the higher levels of the natural range could reduce or clear pathogen loads without incurring costs for healthy bees.







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