Goulson, D., Hanley, M.E., Darvill, B. et al. J Insect Conserv (2006) 10: 95. doi:10.1007/s10841-006-6286-3
Much of the ecology of rare bumblebee species remains poorly understood and in need of further study. It has recently been suggested that differences in the range and rate of decline among bumblebee species may relate to differences in their degree of habitat specialization. We examine biotope use by 17 bumblebee species in the Hebrides, southern UK and South Island, New Zealand. We identify a cluster of widespread and abundant species that occur in almost all biotopes and exploit man-made environments such as gardens and arable margins, this group corresponding to the “mainland ubiquitous” species of previous studies. A second grouping of species includes those associated to varying degrees with heathland. It is notable that some species occupy markedly different biotopes in different parts of their range; for example B. soroeensis is found largely on upland heaths in the Hebrides, but on calcareous grassland in the south. Some species, such as B. subterraneus and B. distinguendus, now survive only in specific rare biotopes and could be mistaken for habitat specialists, but it is clear from their historic distributions that they formerly occupied a broader range of biotopes. Surviving populations of several of the species that have declined most (B. distinguendus, B. sylvarum, B. muscorum sladeni, B. humilis) exhibit a markedly coastal distribution, when once they were widespread inland. We suggest that this is probably simply because some coastal biotopes are less amenable to agricultural improvement, and so more have escaped the detrimental effects of intensive farming. Our results concur with previous suggestions that bumblebees are generally not habitat specialists, so that the conservation of most bumblebee species could be achieved by restoration of flower-rich unimproved meadows.