Habitat and forage associations of a naturally colonising insect pollinator, the Tree Bumblebee Bombus hypnorum

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Abstract

Bumblebees (Bombus species) are major pollinators of commercial crops and wildflowers but factors affecting their abundance, including causes of recent population declines, remain unclear. Investigating the ecology of species with expanding ranges provides a potentially powerful means of elucidating these factors. Such species may also bring novel pollination services to their new ranges. We therefore investigated landscape-scale habitat use and foraging preferences of the Tree Bumblebee, B. hypnorum, a recent natural colonist that has rapidly expanded its range in the UK over the past decade. Counts of B. hypnorum and six other Bombus species were made in March-June 2012 within a mixed landscape in south-eastern Norfolk, UK. The extent of different landscape elements around each transect was quantified at three scales (250 m, 500 m and 1500 m). We then identified the landscape elements that best predicted the density of B. hypnorum and other Bombus species. At the best fitting scale (250 m), B. hypnorum density was significantly positively associated with extent of both urban and woodland cover and significantly negatively associated with extent of oilseed rape cover. This combination of landscape predictors was unique to B. hypnorum. Urban and woodland cover were associated with B. hypnorum density at three and two, respectively, of the three scales studied. Relative to other Bombus species, B. hypnorum exhibited a significantly higher foraging preference for two flowering trees, Crataegus monogyna and Prunus spinosa, and significantly lower preferences for Brassica napus, Glechoma hederacea and Lamium album. Our study provides novel, quantitative support for an association of B. hypnorum with urban and woodland landscape elements. Range expansion in B. hypnorum appears to depend, on exploitation of widespread habitats underutilised by native Bombus species, suggesting B. hypnorum will readily co-exist with these species. These findings suggest that management could target bumblebee species with distinctive habitat requirements to help maintain pollination services
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere107568
JournalPLoS One
Volume9
Issue number9
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 26 Sep 2014

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