Shepherd S, Hollands G, Godley VC, Sharkh SM, Jackson CW, et al. (2019) Increased aggression and reduced aversive learning in honey bees exposed to extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields. PLOS ONE 14(10): e0223614. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0223614
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Honey bees, Apis mellifera, are a globally significant pollinator species and are currently in decline, with losses attributed to an array of interacting environmental stressors. Extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields (ELF EMFs) are a lesser-known abiotic environmental factor that are emitted from a variety of anthropogenic sources, including power lines, and have recently been shown to have a significant impact on the cognitive abilities and behaviour of honey bees. Here we have investigated the effects of field-realistic levels of ELF EMFs on aversive learning and aggression levels, which are critical factors for bees to maintain colony strength. Bees were exposed for 17 h to 100 μT or 1000 μT ELF EMFs, or a sham control. A sting extension response (SER) assay was conducted to determine the effects of ELF EMFs on aversive learning, while an intruder assay was conducted to determine the effects of ELF EMFs on aggression levels. Exposure to both 100 μT and 1000 μT ELF EMF reduced aversive learning performance by over 20%. Exposure to 100 μT ELF EMFs also increased aggression scores by 60%, in response to intruder bees from foreign hives. These results indicate that short-term exposure to ELF EMFs, at levels that could be encountered in bee hives placed under power lines, reduced aversive learning and increased aggression levels. These behavioural changes could have wider ecological implications in terms of the ability of bees to interact with, and respond appropriately to, threats and negative environmental stimuli.