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Debbie Hadley

Flight of the Bumblebee Determined by Floral Diversity

By January 7, 2013

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As honey bee populations continue to decline, native pollinators become increasingly important. Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin are studying how bumblebees are impacted by things like impervious surfaces, in order to inform management strategies for them and for other native pollinators. Shalene Jha (University of Texas) and Claire Kremen (University of California-Berkeley) used genetic tools to estimate and track populations of Bombus vosnesenskii across varied environments.

Because all worker bees in a given colony are genetically related, Jha and Kremen were able to collect bumblebees from a study area and estimate how many unique colonies foraged there. They could also determine how far individual bees were traveling to find suitable nectar sources.

Their research confirmed that pavement and other impervious surfaces have a detrimental impact on ground-nesting bumblebees. Jha and Kremen also found that bumblebees will fly longer distances in search of more diverse patches of flowers. In other words, bumblebees will risk longer foraging flights for the reward of diversity, rather than flower density.

The study suggests that appropriate management strategies for bumblebees might include limiting paved surfaces, while expanding natural areas with diverse species of flowering plants.

Source: Bumblebees Do Best Where There Is Less Pavement and More Floral Diversity, University of Texas at Austin, Dec. 24, 2012

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