Bumblebees play a major role in global pollination. Consequently, their health is of high importance for food security worldwide. Yet, recent population estimates show that their numbers are declining. This decline has been attributed to habitat loss, infection and use of pesticides. An important factor for bee health that contributes to population survival is the gut microbiome composition. The bee gut microbiome provides protection from pathogens, is specific to the host and helps break down food. Without a balanced gut microbiome, the health of the bee is threatened through increased infection and mortality. The bee gut microbiome is relatively simple, being dominated by 8 core bacterial species providing a convenient study system. Previous published data shows that air pollution has an impact on bacterial behaviour. Therefore, our hypothesis is exposure to air pollution causes an imbalance in the bee gut microbiome. To test this, we exposed bees to black carbon (BC), a major component of air pollution particulate matter. We assessed the effects on bee behaviour, microbiome composition and gut bacteria treated in vitro. Bees treated with BC showed a significant increase in viable bacterial cells in their faecal community. Independent culture of gut commensals showed that BC significantly alters the structure of their biofilms, which are important for colonisation in vivo. This supports the hypothesis that air pollution can cause an imbalance in the bee gut microbiome, and may adversely influence bee health and pollinator populations.

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