Evidence for decline in eastern North American bumblebees (Hymenoptera: Apidae), with special focus on Bombus affinis Cresson

Abstract

Bumblebees (Bombus spp.) have been declining rapidly in many temperate regions of the Old World. Despite their ecological and economic importance as pollinators, North American bumblebees have not been extensively surveyed and their conservation status is largely unknown. In this study, two approaches were used to determine whether bumblebees in that region were in decline spatially and temporally. First, surveys performed in 2004–2006 in southern Ontario were compared to surveys from 1971 to 1973 in the same sites to look at changes in community composition, in one of the most bumblebee diverse areas of eastern North America. Second, the extent of range decline for a focal species (Bombus affinis Cresson) was estimated by surveying 43 sites throughout its known native range in eastern Canada and the United States. Our study documents an impoverishment of the bumblebee community in southern Ontario over the past 35 years. Bombus affinis in particular was found to have declined drastically in abundance not only in southern Ontario but throughout its native range. The loss of any bumblebee species may result in cascading impacts on native fauna and flora and reduce agricultural production. Implications for the conservation of this important group of pollinators are discussed.

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Acknowledgements

This study was funded by an NSERC discovery grant to L. Packer. We thank R. Macfarlane for providing such a detailed historical data set. We thank M. Michalak and E. Willis for assistance with bee collecting. We would like to thank R. Gegear, C. Sheffield, J. Thomson, M. Otterstatter and P. Williams for valuable advice and discussion.

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Correspondence to Sheila R. Colla.

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Colla, S.R., Packer, L. Evidence for decline in eastern North American bumblebees (Hymenoptera: Apidae), with special focus on Bombus affinis Cresson. Biodivers Conserv 17, 1379 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-008-9340-5

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Keywords

  • Bee conservation
  • Bumblebees
  • Pollinator decline
  • Bombus affinis
  • Species diversity
  • Species range
  • Relative abundance