Bumblebee Longevity Study

Project Overview

Bumblebees are part of our overall biodiversity and have a vital role to play  in pollination, yet they are currently threatened by habitat alterations and  decline. Our Ambios research project is gathering data about how long  Bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) live for in the wild in order to better understand factors affecting their survival. This joint project with the University of Exeter  began in 2015 at our South Devon base, Lower Sharpham Farm.

Background

Intensive agriculture in the UK is decreasing biodiversity and leading to degradation of habitats key to the survival of  Bombus terrestris L. (the Bumblebee). A reduction in areas of wild or semi-wild grassland limits the availability of vital pollen. Although it is known that the lack of pollen affects the longevity of the Bumblebee, few efforts have been made to collect the necessary data for a longevity study. As a member of the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme, Lower Sharpham Farm is an ideal location for such a study. The farm is managed for biodiversity ensuring parts of the farm can provide habitats for wildlife such as Bumblebees, while still functioning as a working farm.

Research and Methods

Our most recent data gathering exercise was undertaken by a group of Erasmus plus students working at Lower Sharpham Farm as part of the Nature Conservation Experience training programme.  They worked alongside experienced Ambios staff to gather data on Bumblebees over a 12 week period. They gathered daily data on  B. terrestris colonies at 8 locations around the farm. The data included numbers of workers (marked and unmarked) and queens. Additional information such as abnormal conditions caused by the presence of outsiders (i.e. slugs or moths) was also monitored. From the initial eight colonies, six remained in normal conditions at the end of the period for data collecting. Each colony demonstrated slightly different behaviours in their population growth.  The results of this initial part of the project can be found on a research paper completed by one of our students here. Further studies will help us to understand changes in Bumblebee survivorship over time and according to different external factors.