Bumblebees living in urban areas are thriving better than their rural cousins, research from Royal Holloway and Imperial College London has claimed.
The research looked at why bumblebees appear to be more abundant in cities and towns compared to the countryside – despite the fact urban areas are seen as less wildlife friendly.
Researchers bred colonies of bees in a lab and then placed the in 38 different locations as part of the study for 10 weeks. These included a range of inner city gardens and rural farms.
“We found that bumblebee colonies placed in agricultural areas produced significantly fewer reproductive offspring than those in village or city sites,” lead researcher Ash Samuelson from Royal Holloway said. “This means that these colonies would be less able to pass their genes on to the next generation.”
Samuelson added: “We also found that agricultural colonies were smaller and had less stored food, which may have contributed to the lower reproductive success.”
Modern farming methods may have made farmland less attractive to bees, as natural wildflowers were replaced with crops and pesticides used to protect food production leaving it “barren”.
“Although it seems counterintuitive that the ‘unnatural’ environment of a city is beneficial to bees, we have to remember that modern agricultural areas are also very far from the habitats in which these bees evolved,” she added. “So while we were surprised by the magnitude of the effect of urbanisation on bee colony success, the fact that bees performed poorly in farmland reflects the increasingly apparent realisation that intensive agriculture has negative impacts for wildlife.”
Bumblebees are important pollinators but are facing multiple threats, including changes in the availability of forage because of land-use change and pressure from parasites and disease.