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Bumblebees change their lifestyle after establishing a nest

In a new study from PLOS, experts used tiny radio transmitters to monitor the movements and activities of bumblebees. The researchers found that after establishing their nests, bumblebees modify their lifestyle, including diet and habitat.

The analysis, which was led by Pablo Cavigliasso of the Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria, suggests that bees require diversified landscapes to support their needs, which change throughout various phases of life.

According to the study authors, the findings contribute to the growing understanding of how bumblebees use the environment, and provide valuable insight for conservation during a critical time in the bumblebee life cycle.

Many bumblebee species are rapidly declining, and some groups are even critically endangered. Identifying the resources used by bumblebees in agricultural landscapes can inform farmland management practices that support bee populations and protect the important pollination services they provide.

For the current study, the researchers investigated the habitat selection of 17 queen bumblebees across blueberry fields in Entre Ríos province, Argentina. After attaching tiny 0.2g radio transmitters to each queen bee, the team used radio telemetry to track their locations.

Before they established a nest, the queens had a much larger range, often searching for suitable nesting areas throughout the blueberry fields. However, once a nest was established, they transitioned to a smaller range along the edges of the fields near the forest. 

The bees also switched over to a diet of wild floral species. With a nest to maintain, the bees seemed to prefer landscapes with greater floral diversity to support their growing worker colony.

The research highlights the need for land owners and farmers to consider the full life cycle of bees, from the time of nest formation to the emergence of worker bees. This approach could help maintain native bees in farmlands for many generations, along with their valuable pollination services.

“In this study we provide insight into how bumblebee queens use different habitat elements at crucial periods in their life cycle, showing the importance of mass flowering crops like blueberry in the first flights, and how diversified landscapes help support bee populations as their needs changes during the during the early phases of its life cycle,’ said Cavigliasso.

The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer


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