A study using 10 years of citizen science data from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s Beehawk scheme has found that different targeted conservation approaches are needed to protect the UK’s bumblebee species. The findings are published by the British Ecological Society. Journal of Applied Ecology,
Researchers from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and the University of Edinburgh have used 10 years of bumblebee abundance data collected by citizen scientists to provide the most detailed overview currently possible for bumblebee habitat requirements across the UK.
The researchers found wide differences among bumblebee species in their habitat types. This suggests that a one-size-fits-all approach to bumblebee conservation will not effectively protect all species and that conservation efforts need to be carefully tailored for particular species.
The study identified the types of habitats that could be targeted for bumblebee conservation. Cultivable areas were found to be important for rare species such as large garden bumblebees (Bombus ruderatus), the largest species in the UK. Whereas large areas of semi-natural land, such as marshland, were important for many species such as mosses and brown-banded carder bees (Bombus Muskorum And Bombus Humilis), and Bilberry Bumblebee (Bombus Monticola).
Bumblebees are mostly threatened by loss and degradation of nesting and feeding habitats
Dr Penelope Whitehorn at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, who led the study, said: “Our results suggest that reversing the loss of semi-natural areas such as wetlands may be the most generally effective action for bumblebee conservation, while improving habitats. Urban and arable areas can benefit particular rare species. As one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world it is really important that we better protect our native species and habitats in the UK.”
Effective conservation requires a thorough knowledge of the requirements of different species which in turn depends on detailed habitat survey data. These data in this study were provided by a long-running citizen science project, which the researchers consider essential in both collecting the data and engaging the public in conservation.
Dr. Whitehorn said: “Our study highlights the value of citizen science for understanding bumblebees and their habitats. Citizen science also gives everyone a chance to contribute to protecting these species.”
The study also identified differences in habitat association within bumblebee species. Queens and males of several species were associated exclusively with scrub, bracken and herbaceous areas, suggesting that these habitats are good for nesting. In contrast, workers were usually attached to hedges and lanes, suggesting that these are good for providing food.
A third of the 24 bumblebee species in the UK are listed as species of conservation concern because they are found in fewer places. “Bumblebees are mostly threatened by loss and degradation of nesting and feeding habitats,” said Richard Commont, science manager at the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.
“Bumblebees need areas with lots of flowers from March to September/October. Bees lose this important resource when habitats are completely lost because they are either created or changed in other environments or get spoiled by things like the use of pesticides.”
In the study researchers used 10 years of data from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s Beewalk scheme, a citizen science project involving more than 500 volunteers across the UK who conduct monthly surveillance walks, identifying and counting bumblebees.
The researchers combined data from the Beehawk plan with land cover data, climate date and detailed observer-collected habitat data. These combined data sources allowed the researchers to look at relationships between 14 UK bumblebee species and habitat types.
As with many studies that rely on volunteers to collect data, researchers found biases. Volunteers often selected survey sites to monitor bumblebees that were close to their habitat, creating a bias towards urban areas. However, the researchers say the scale and distribution of volunteer efforts still covered a wide range of UK scenarios, allowing for statistically robust conclusions.
On the next steps in this area of research, Dr Whitehorn said: “We want to find out why different species are associated with different habitats, so we can create and conserve the right conditions for them in the future. We also need to better understand how changing climate and land use may affect bumblebees and their habitats.”
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