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Nesting ecology, management and population genetics of bumblebees: An integrated approach to the conservation of an endangered pollinator taxon

Nesting ecology, management and population genetics of bumblebees: An integrated approach to the conservation of an endangered pollinator taxon
Gillian Clare Lye


School of Biological & Environmental Sciences, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4LA, UNITED KINGDOM.


Bumblebees have shown both long and short-term declines throughout their range. These declines may be attributed to a range of factors including changes in land use, alterations in climatic conditions and species introductions. However, management strategies for bumblebee conservation often focus on provision of summer forage resources and other factors are frequently overlooked. Provision of spring forage and nesting sites for bumblebee queens are rarely considered, though colony foundation and early colony growth are two of the most sensitive stages in bumblebee life history. Here, the efficacy of certain agri-environment prescriptions for providing spring forage and nest sites for bumblebees is assessed, highlighting a need for specific schemes targeted towards the provision of these vital resources in the rural environment. The nesting ecology of bumblebees is poorly understood because wild colonies are difficult to locate. However, a greater knowledge of the colony-level effects of environmental change is crucial to understanding bumblebee declines. Attracting bumblebee queens to nest in artificial domiciles could provide a valuable tool for studying colony-level responses. However, domicile trials and the findings of a literature review presented here demonstrate that this approach may be largely impractical for use in the UK. Conversely, a nationwide public bumblebee nest survey produced numerous data regarding nest site preferences among bumblebee species and also demonstrated that citizen science may also provide a sensitive method for detecting declines in currently common bumblebee species. An understanding of the ecology of species interactions and coexistence can provide valuable insights into factors that may influence declines. Data presented here suggest that coexistence between some bumblebee species may be maintained by resource partitioning based on diel activity patterns that are linked to species- specific environmental tolerances. If this is the case, the potential role of climate change in bumblebee declines may be severely underestimated. There is also increasing evidence that genetic factors may play a role in bumblebee losses, accelerating declines of small, fragmented populations as a result of reduction in genetic diversity and inbreeding depression. Here, the feasibility of reintroducing British B. subterraneus (now extinct in the UK) from New Zealand into England is assessed using population genetic techniques. The findings suggest that the population history of B. subterraneus in New Zealand has resulted in a dramatic loss of genetic diversity and high genetic divergence from the original UK population, suggesting that it may not be a suitable for use in the reintroduction attempt.

This work draws together some understudied aspects of bumblebee ecology with a particular focus on nest site requirements, availability of spring forage, mechanisms of avoidance of inter-specific competition and population genetic processes. The potential role of these in bumblebee declines is considered and new data relevant to the conservation of these important species is presented. It is hoped that this work will inform future management strategies for bumblebee conservation, highlight areas in need of further study and provide a sound starting point for future research in these areas.