How landscape, pollen intake and pollen quality affect colony growth in Bombus terrestris

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Kaemper, Wiebke
Werner, Patrizia K
Hilpert, Andrea
Westphal, Catrin
Bluethgen, Nico
Eltz, Thomas
Leonhardt, Sara Diana
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Context: Abundance and diversity of bumblebees have been declining over the past decades. To successfully conserve bumblebee populations, we need to understand how landscape characteristics affect the quantity and quality of floral resources collected by colonies and subsequently colony performance. Objectives: We therefore investigated how amount and composition of pollen collected by buff-tailed bumblebee Bombus terrestris colonies was affected by the surrounding landscape (i.e. the proportion of forest, urban, semi-natural habitats) and how they were related to colony growth. Methods: Thirty B. terrestris colonies were placed at grassland sites differing in surrounding landscape. Colonies were established in spring when availability of flowering plants was highest, and their weight gain was monitored for 1 month. We additionally recorded the quantity and compared plant taxonomic composition and nutritional quality (i.e. amino acid composition) of pollen stored. Results: Bumblebee colonies varied little in the pollen spectra collected despite differences in surrounding landscape composition. They collected on average 80 % of pollen from woody plants, with 34 % belonging to the genus Acer. Early colony growth positively correlated with total amount of woody pollen and protein collected and decreased with increasing proportions of semi-natural habitats and total amino acid concentrations. Conclusions: Our results suggest that woody plant species represent highly important pollen sources for the generalist forager B. terrestris early in the season. We further show that colony growth of B. terrestris is predominantly affected by the quantity, not quality, of forage, indicating that several abundant plant species flowering throughout the bumblebees’ foraging season may cover the colonies’ nutritional needs.

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Landscape Ecology
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Kämper, W; Werner, PK; Hilpert, A; Westphal, C; Blüthgen, N; Eltz, T; Leonhardt, SD, How landscape, pollen intake and pollen quality affect colony growth in Bombus terrestris, Landscape Ecology, 2016, 31 (10), pp. 2245-2258