Letter | Published:

Bumblebee family lineage survival is enhanced in high-quality landscapes

Nature volume 543, pages 547549 (23 March 2017) | Download Citation


Insect pollinators such as bumblebees (Bombus spp.) are in global decline1,2. A major cause of this decline is habitat loss due to agricultural intensification3. A range of global and national initiatives aimed at restoring pollinator habitats and populations have been developed4,5. However, the success of these initiatives depends critically upon understanding how landscape change affects key population-level parameters, such as survival between lifecycle stages6, in target species. This knowledge is lacking for bumblebees, because of the difficulty of systematically finding and monitoring colonies in the wild. We used a combination of habitat manipulation, land-use and habitat surveys, molecular genetics7 and demographic and spatial modelling to analyse between-year survival of family lineages in field populations of three bumblebee species. Here we show that the survival of family lineages from the summer worker to the spring queen stage in the following year increases significantly with the proportion of high-value foraging habitat, including spring floral resources, within 250–1,000 m of the natal colony. This provides evidence for a positive impact of habitat quality on survival and persistence between successive colony cycle stages in bumblebee populations. These findings also support the idea that conservation interventions that increase floral resources at a landscape scale and throughout the season have positive effects on wild pollinators in agricultural landscapes.

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We thank the CEH field team (L. Hulmes, J. Peyton, J. Savage, S. Amy, R. Chapman, G. Baron and R. MacDonald) for sampling bumblebees and conducting habitat surveys; R. Faccenda and R. Franklin of Faccenda Farms, and other landowners, for access to the Hillesden Estate and surroundings; R. Pywell and M. Nowakowski for access to the Hillesden Experimental Platform; H. Dean for data management; C. Harrower for help with graphics; H. M. Lattorff for use of his primers for the molecular discrimination of B. terrestris and B. lucorum workers; I. Warren for assistance with laboratory work; and J. Bullock and K. Schonrogge for comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. This research was supported by the Insect Pollinators Initiative (grant BB/I000925/1). The Insect Pollinators Initiative was funded jointly by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Natural Environment Research Council, The Scottish Government and The Wellcome Trust, under the Living with Environmental Change Partnership. Acquisition of remote sensing data was funded by Syngenta Plc.

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    • William C. Jordan



  1. NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Benson Lane, Crowmarsh Gifford, Wallingford OX10 8BB, UK

    • Claire Carvell
    • , Stephen N. Freeman
    • , Sarah Hulmes
    • , John W. Redhead
    •  & Matthew S. Heard
  2. School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich Research Park, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK

    • Andrew F. G. Bourke
  3. Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, Regent’s Park, London NW1 4RY, UK

    • Stephanie Dreier
    • , William C. Jordan
    • , Seirian Sumner
    •  & Jinliang Wang
  4. School of Biological Sciences, Bristol Life Sciences Building, University of Bristol, 24 Tyndall Avenue, Bristol BS8 1TQ, UK

    • Stephanie Dreier
    •  & Seirian Sumner
  5. Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK

    • Seirian Sumner


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C.C., M.S.H., A.F.G.B., S.S. and W.C.J. conceived the project and designed the study. C.C., M.S.H. and S.H. coordinated the fieldwork and modelling elements and C.C. prepared the manuscript. S.D. carried out the molecular genotyping and sibship assignments with guidance from J.W. J.W.R. developed and applied the spatial analyses and S.N.F. designed and undertook the statistical analyses. All authors contributed to writing and critiquing the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Claire Carvell.

Reviewer Information Nature thanks T. Ergon and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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