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Contrasting occurrence patterns of managed and native bumblebees in natural habitats across a greenhouse landscape gradient

Trillo, Alejandro, Montero-Castaño, Ana, González-Varo, Juan P., González-Moreno, Pablo, Ortiz-Sánchez, F. Javier, Vilà, Montserrat
Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 2019 v.272 pp. 230-236
Angiospermae, Apis mellifera, Bombus terrestris, crops, farmers, flowering, greenhouses, habitats, honey bees, landscapes, pollination, pollinators, risk, spring, strawberries, winter, Spain
In recent decades, there has been a remarkable expansion of pollinator-dependent crops. An increase in the use of commercial pollinator colonies associated with these crops may promote the spillover of managed pollinators into nearby natural habitats. There, these managed pollinators can exploit floral resources similar to those of wild pollinators, and thus increase competition for local resources. Nonetheless, managed pollinator spillover has been poorly studied and research has focused on only one species, the western honeybee (Apis mellifera). In south-western Spain, we investigated the presence, density and exploitation of floral resources by managed (Bombus terrestris) and native bumblebees (B. t. lusitanicus) in 19 Mediterranean pinewood understories across a landscape gradient of strawberry polytunnel greenhouse cover. Sampling was performed over two consecutive years in two seasons: winter, when strawberries begin flowering and farmers frequently use colonies, and spring, when there is greater availability of floral resources and wild pollinators thrive. In winter, the density of managed bumblebees in pinewoods was higher than that of native bumblebees. The presence of managed and native bumblebees in pinewoods showed contrasting patterns in relation to greenhouse cover in the landscape. The presence of managed bumblebees was positively associated with greenhouse cover, whereas that of native bumblebees was negatively associated with greenhouse cover. Overall, the presence and density of bumblebees did not differ between seasons. The two bumblebee subspecies showed similar wild flowering plant preferences, particularly in winter, when flowering plant species are scarce. We conclude that, although managed bumblebees are placed in greenhouse crops, their pollination role extends beyond these crops. Further studies are needed to assess the pollination function of managed pollinators in crops in order to reduce their spillover into natural habitats and thus, the risks posed to native pollinators.