The effect of thiamethoxam exposure on CFCR
The CFCR decreased significantly in C3 and C4 treatment groups, shortly following thiamethoxam application, while lower doses C1 and C2 did not cause this effect. However, all beetles fed, proving that thiamethoxam did not render them incapable to recognise and consume the food. Furthermore, reduced feeding occurred in the first 14h after the treatment. This behavioural change following thiamethoxam intoxication was noted by Tooming et al. (2017) in predatory carabid Platynus assimilis, where significant reduction in feeding occurred in beetles treated at high doses on the first day, and even at doses ten to a hundred-fold lower on the next day. Systemic exposure to thiamethoxam caused biological agent Serangium japonicum to reduce feeding on the pest eggs during 24h exposure period (Yao et al. 2015). Martinou et al. (2014) reported that sublethal effects of thiacloprid on a common generalist predator in Mediterranean agro-ecosystems, Macrolophus pygmaeus Rambur, included an increase in resting and preening time and, decreased plant-feeding, and a significantly reduced predation rate. In nature, adequate feeding is an important factor in survival, growth, and fecundity (Knapp and Uhnavá 2014), and toxic stress resulting in decreased feeding could lead to a reduced abundance of beneficial insects.
Locomotor activity and mortality following thiamethoxam exposure
Between 12- and 48-hours post-treatment, beetles were showing visible signs of intoxication in their locomotion, but only one individual was dead after 48h. Thiamethoxam is a neurotoxin that bind to nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) in the central nervous system of insects (Goulson 2013), causing loss of coordination and orientation, paralysis and death (Jensen et al. 1997; Desneux et al. 2007; Moser and Obrycki 2009). In our study, beetles demonstrated adverse effects in locomotion at doses 20 and 40 mg/L, after 12h. Tooming et al. (2017) noted that when higher doses of thiamethoxam are administered orally, carabids display hyperactivity shortly after the treatment, and day after the treatment, all beetles were in the state of hypoactivity, regardless of the dose. Similar results on insect predators were observed for other neurotoxic pesticides such as pyrethroids (Prasifka et al. 2008) and organophosphates (Singh et al. 2001). In our study, thiamethoxam caused neurotoxic sublethal effects including impaired walking, inability to turn on the legs after being flipped on the back, and excessive grooming. Carabid beetle Harpalus pennsylvanicus showed the same effects after being exposed to neonicotinoid imidacloprid, through consumption of contaminated food or direct contact with spray, which left them vulnerable to other predators (Kunkel et al. 2001). Field application rate of dimethoate caused a 2.5% mortality rate of Pterostichus melas italicus adults and in 7.5% of specimens a reduction of normal activity (knocked out) after 48h exposure via substrate in containers (Giglio et al. 2011). Predatory carabid beetles are active hunters, meaning that neonicotinoid intoxication can easily disable them both in capturing prey and avoiding predators. Hypoactivity as a result to neonicotinoid poisoning could explain lower carabid activity density in field where neonicotinoid seed treatment is used (Douglas et al. 2014).
Untargeted metabolic profiling
The full list of scanned metabolites and their concentrations can be found in Supplementary table 1. Here we discuss metabolites with statistical changes in treated groups compared to the control and their connection to thiamethoxam intoxication. The highest change was in succinate levels (198% increase), following d-glucose (112% increase). Succinate is involved in the formation and elimination of reactive oxygen species. Leakage from the mitochondria requires succinate overproduction or underconsumption. Mutations in SDH, hypoxia or energetic misbalance are all linked to succinate accumulation (Tretter et al. 2016, Pekny et al. 2018). This may indicate the increase in oxidative stress, as neonicotinoids are proven to cause it (Yan et al. 2021). Furthermore, increased glutamine metabolism also leads to the accumulation of succinate, and we detected decreased glutamine concentrations in C3 and C4 groups. In the cytosol, glutamate is produced when glutamine donates its γ (amide) nitrogen for the synthesis of nucleotides and hexosamines. Cytosolic glutamate is critical for maintaining redox homeostasis and protecting cells against oxidative stress through the production of glutathione (GSH) (Yu 2008; Zhang et al. 2017). Neonicotinoids clothianidin and imidacloprid altered important aspects of nutritional and metabolic physiology in honey bees, where high-dose imidacloprid exposure resulted in bees having depressed metabolic rate (Derecka et al. 2013; Cook 2019). The lowered metabolic rate could explain both the decrease in food consumption and higher glucose concentrations. Succinate dehydrogenase, an enzyme that catalyses the oxidation of succinate into fumarate in the Krebs cycle, was significantly lowered in silkworms following treatment with organofosfate, suggesting a decrease in respiration rate at the tissue level in silkworms due to toxicity induced by these insecticides (Nath 2002). Another metabolite whose concentrations increased in treated beetles is uric acid. Protein depletion in tissues following insecticide exposure was noted in the earlier studies (Srinivas 1986; Jeschke et al. 2016). This may provide intermediates to the Krebs cycle, by retaining free amino acid content in hemolymph and compensating for osmoregulatory problems during insecticide intoxication (Srinivas 1986). Jeschke et al. (2016) concluded that the amino acids derived from protein breakdown were largely deaminated producing ammonia that was detoxified by conversion to uric acid. Furthermore, uric acid has a positive role in resistance against oxidative stress as demonstrated in the research conducted on thermites (Tasaki et al. 2017), where the accumulation of uric acid, as well as externally administered uric acid, considerably aided termite survival under highly oxidative conditions. Lastly, Etebari et al. (2007) noted an association between decreased protein levels in silkworm larvae after pesticide (pyriproxyfen) application and increased glucose levels in the hemolymph. It was hypothesised that it may be due to the enhancement of trehalase activity in silkworm haemolymph because it was reported that trehalase activity was enhanced in the midgut of silkworms treated with insecticides. Cholesterol, whose concentrations in tissue also increased in post-treatment, is the dominant sterol found in most insects (Behmer and Nes 2003). Etebari et al. (2007) found that changes in cholesterol were similar to uric acid and glucose, whereas it showed a significant increase in treatments after 120 h. In this study, the increase in cholesterol, uric acid, and glucose levels was more prominent at the lower doses of pesticide application. The increase in cholesterol following insecticide intoxication was noted in mammals as well (Ozsahin et al. 2014).
The changes in metabolites differed between the C3 and C4 groups in our experiment, and contrary to the expectation, they were often more pronounced in C3. Cook (2019) demonstrated that the effect of neonicotinoids on bee metabolism is dose dependant. This arises from the extent to which the compounds were perceived and detoxified, from the impact that levels of affected compounds have on secondary molecular pathways, specifically those related to the stress response.
Superoxide Dismutase activity after thiamethoxam exposure
Kruskal-Wallis test revealed no significant differences in SOD activity in beetle tissue following thiamethoxam application. However, trend showed slightly higher activity in the control group compared to the three treated groups, contrary to our hypothesis. Plavšin et al. (2015) demonstrated that the application of neurotoxic pesticides pirimiphos-methyl and deltamethrin can in fact significantly suppress total antioxidative capacity in beetle Tribolium castaneum, as they had an inhibitory effect on SOD molecules. This was due to the pesticide's interference with adipokinetic hormone (AKH) which plays a role in insect defence responses against oxidative stress. Večeřa et al. (2007) measured SOD activity in Spodoptera littoralis larvae fed on an artificial diet containing tannic acid which induces the formation of ROS, but no change in SOD activity was recorded. Song et al. (2017) tested the impact of three commonly used pesticides (chlorpyrifos, trifluralin, and chlorothalonil) on SOD and glutathione S-transferase (GST) activities in Daphnia magna, and found that both SOD activity and GST activity were induced at low concentration, but inhibited at high concentration. Furthermore, GST activity was more sensitive to three commonly-used pesticides than SOD activity. Thus, it is possible that while thiamethoxam did induce oxidative stress in the beetles, their antioxidative response (SOD activity) was suppressed, which would explain the lower SOD activity in the treated beetles. The high intragroup variability could also indicate that some other factors, such as age, soundness, and/or environmental conditions (Simone-Finstrom et al. 2016) prior to the capture had a higher impact on SOD activity than short term thiamethoxam exposure.
To conclude, short-term exposure to higher doses of thiamethoxams negatively affected the CFCR and locomotor abilities of predatory carabid Abax parallelus, which could have detrimental impact on both their survival and predatory abilities in nature. However, mortality was low even 48h after the treatment. Intoxication with thiamethoxam appears to increase the protein catabolism in insects, indicated by various changes in free amino acids and significantly elevated uric acid concentrations. On the other hand, opposite was noted for carbohydrate metabolism, as the glucose and succinate increased in the tissue. Mild SOD activity in treated groups could be due to the potential inhibiting effect of the thiamethoxam, or the sensibility of beetles to other inner and/or outer stress agents. Changes in glutamine, succinate, uric acid (metabolites which play a role in anti-oxidative response), together with earlier studies on oxidative stress caused by insecticides, imply that thiamethoxam did cause oxidative damage in the beetle, but some other biomarker than SOD may be more indicative. All observed effects are dose-dependent.