Access to a range of pollen and nectar-rich sources is key to the survival of bumblebees, according to a new UK study.
Researchers used DNA technology and remote sensing to identify, map and track females of three different species and 1,600 bumblebee families.
When bumblebee colonies were located within 250–1,000 metres of flower-rich habitats, they produced more daughter queens that survived to the following year.
“The findings suggest that increasing flowers provided by spring-flowering trees, hedgerow plants and crops across the landscape – in combination with summer flower resources along field edges – can increase the probability of family survival by up to four times,” said Centre of Ecology and Hydrology’s Dr Claire Carvell.
DNA samples were collected and compared with genetic markers that enabled ecologists to find out which colonies the different bees originated from.
“By decoding the clues hidden within the DNA of bumblebee queens and workers and combining these with detailed landscape surveys, our research demonstrates that the survival of bumblebee families between years is positively linked with habitat quality at a landscape scale,” said Carvell.
Most bumblebee colonies are formed by a single queen who has emerged from hibernation in spring.
She first produces worker bees, which are infertile females, followed by fertile male and female queen bees later in the season.
The new queens will then mate and hibernate, and begin new colonies the following spring.
However, some bumblebee species can undergo this lifecycle a few times within one year.