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Volume 26, Issue 3 p. 726-739
Article

Effects of habitat composition and landscape structure on worker foraging distances of five bumble bee species

John W. Redhead

Corresponding Author

John W. Redhead

NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Benson Lane, Crowmarsh Gifford, Wallingford, OX10 8BB UK

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Stephanie Dreier

Stephanie Dreier

Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, Regent's Park, London, NW1 4RY UK

School of Biological Sciences, Bristol Life Sciences Building, University of Bristol, 24 Tyndall Avenue, Bristol BS8 1TQ, UK

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Andrew F. G. Bourke

Andrew F. G. Bourke

School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich Research Park, Norwich, NR4 7TJ UK

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Matthew S. Heard

Matthew S. Heard

NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Benson Lane, Crowmarsh Gifford, Wallingford, OX10 8BB UK

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William C. Jordan

William C. Jordan

Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, Regent's Park, London, NW1 4RY UK

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Seirian Sumner

Seirian Sumner

Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, Regent's Park, London, NW1 4RY UK

School of Biological Sciences, Bristol Life Sciences Building, University of Bristol, 24 Tyndall Avenue, Bristol BS8 1TQ, UK

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Jinliang Wang

Jinliang Wang

Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, Regent's Park, London, NW1 4RY UK

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Claire Carvell

Claire Carvell

NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Benson Lane, Crowmarsh Gifford, Wallingford, OX10 8BB UK

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First published: 19 August 2015
Citations: 98

Corresponding Editor: C. Gratton.

Abstract

Bumble bees (Bombus spp.) are important pollinators of both crops and wildflowers. Their contribution to this essential ecosystem service has been threatened over recent decades by changes in land use, which have led to declines in their populations. In order to design effective conservation measures, it is important to understand the effects of variation in landscape composition and structure on the foraging activities of worker bumble bees. This is because the viability of individual colonies is likely to be affected by the trade-off between the energetic costs of foraging over greater distances and the potential gains from access to additional resources. We used field surveys, molecular genetics, and fine resolution remote sensing to estimate the locations of wild bumble bee nests and to infer foraging distances across a 20-km2 agricultural landscape in southern England, UK. We investigated five species, including the rare B. ruderatus and ecologically similar but widespread B. hortorum. We compared worker foraging distances between species and examined how variation in landscape composition and structure affected foraging distances at the colony level. Mean worker foraging distances differed significantly between species. Bombus terrestris, B. lapidarius, and B. ruderatus exhibited significantly greater mean foraging distances (551, 536, and 501 m, respectively) than B. hortorum and B. pascuorum (336 and 272 m, respectively). There was wide variation in worker foraging distances between colonies of the same species, which was in turn strongly influenced by the amount and spatial configuration of available foraging habitats. Shorter foraging distances were found for colonies where the local landscape had high coverage and low fragmentation of seminatural vegetation, including managed agri-environmental field margins. The strength of relationships between different landscape variables and foraging distance varied between species, for example the strongest relationship for B. ruderatus being with floral cover of preferred forage plants. Our findings suggest that management of landscape composition and configuration has the potential to reduce foraging distances across a range of bumble bee species. There is thus potential for improvements in the design and implementation of landscape management options, such as agri-environment schemes, aimed at providing foraging habitat for bumble bees and enhancing crop pollination services.