Causes of colony mortality in bumblebees

Goulson, Dave, O'Connor, Steph and Park, Kirsty J (2018) Causes of colony mortality in bumblebees. Animal Conservation, 21 (1). pp. 45-53. ISSN 1367-9430

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Despite considerable interest in bumblebees and their conservation, few data are available on basic life history parameters such as rates of nest predation and the proportion of wild nests that survive to reproduction. Here we use a combination of data collected by volunteers and our own direct observations which together describe the fate of 908 bumblebee nests in the UK between 2008 and 2013. Overall, 75% of nests produced gynes, with marked differences between species; the recently arrived species, B. hypnorum, had the highest proportion of colonies surviving to gyne production (96%), with the long-tongued B. hortorum having the lowest success in reaching gyne production (41%). There were also large differences between bumblebee species in the timing of nesting, gyne production and nest mortality, with B. hypnorum and B. pratorum nests starting early, producing most gynes before mid-summer, and then dying off in June, while at the other end of the spectrum B. pascuorum nests started late and produced gynes mainly in August. There was evidence for the partial or complete destruction of 100 nests. The main reported causes were excavation by a large mammal, probably primarily Meles meles (50%). Human disturbance was the second greatest cause of nest mortality (26%), followed by flooding (7%). Wax moth infestations were common (55% of nests), with Bombus hypnorum nests most frequently infested. However, infestation did not results in reduced likelihood of gyne production, perhaps because infestations often do not become severe until after some gynes have been produced. Our study provides novel insights into the little-studied biology of wild bumblebee nests and factors affecting their survival; collecting similar data sets in the future would enable fascinating comparisons as to how parameters such as nest survival and reproduction are changing over time, and are affected by management interventions for bees.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Life Sciences > Evolution, Behaviour and Environment
Depositing User: David Goulson
Date Deposited: 26 May 2017 10:29
Last Modified: 02 Jul 2019 15:22

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