Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Robert J. Gegear, Advisor




Bumble bees and other wild pollinators are crucial to the support of both natural and agricultural ecosystems. However, unprecedented declines of pollinator populations have been observed all over the world, raising concerns of a looming threat to both the human food supply, as well as sustainability of the biodiversity in local ecological niches. Though declines are well described, the cause behind these still evades scientists. Proposed contributors include anthropogenic-mediated environmental stress, including application of xenobiotics for pest control, and increase of pathogen diversity and abundance due to the shipment of infection human-managed colonies. This research examined these theories and attempted to quantify the threats they may pose. Through development of a chronic, oral toxicity experiment, susceptibility of all Bombus impatiens castes to clothianidin exposure was examined. This exposed a substantial increase in vulnerability of male bumble bees to realistic concentrations of neonicotinoid pesticides, highlighting the crucial need to examine all members of wild bumble bee life cycles before determining pesticide regulations. Additionally, sublethal effects on fitness-related foraging behaviors in Bombus impatiens were examined through development of a voluntary task switching assay. The results of this experiment suggest humoral immune stimulation, through pathogenic infection, leads to significant impairment of cognitive flexibility. Taken together, this data suggests that pesticides and pathogens are capable of causing severe detrimental effects, both lethally and sublethally, in wild bumble bees. I hope this data will eventually contribute to reassessment of environmental regulations and establishment of effective conservation strategies in order to sustain the critical populations of wild bumble bees.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Biology & Biotechnology

Project Type


Date Accepted



Restricted-WPI community only


serial reversal, voluntary task switching, cognitive flexibility, clothianidin, neonicotinoid, ecotoxicology, sickness behavior, antimicrobial peptides, Bombus impatiens, pollinator, bumble bee