A new threat to native bumblebees

In their recently published article, Bartomeus et al. show how the commercial bumblebee trade is affecting the genetic integrity of native pollinators. Here the authors provide a summary of their work.

Bees, especially bumblebees, are threatened by human-induced rapid environmental change such as habitat loss, exotic pathogens and global warming. But some species are more resilient than others.

This is the case for the buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris), whose populations doing OK so far. In fact, this species is so resilient that we can rear them in captivity and deploy them in greenhouses for crop pollination.

We know that these practices are terrible when the introductions occur outside its native range as B. terrestris can compete and displace local species. But is it OK to do it within its native range?

Putting aside the potential spread of pathogens associated with commercial bumblebees, releasing large numbers of B. terrestris may not be a good idea for genetic reasons. In Europe, there are different local subspecies adapted to the environment and mixing subspecies may jeopardize local adaptations and homogenise the genetic diversity of these species with unknown consequences.

In our latest research, we show evidence that hybridization between commercial and native lines is common in southern Spain. What are its implications? What should we do to fix it? We’ve crafted this nice video below to explain it all:

Thanks to Igansi Bartomeus’ kids for helping with this fun outreach project during lockdown. You can also find the Spanish version of the video here:

Read the full research: “Safeguarding the genetic integrity of native pollinators requires stronger regulations on commercial lines” in Issue 1:1 of Ecological Solutions and Evidence.

This article is in the inaugural Issue of our new open access journal, Ecological Solutions and Evidence. Find out more about ESE and how we complement our sister journal, Journal of Applied Ecology, in our Editorial.

3 thoughts on “A new threat to native bumblebees

  1. Hi Daniel,

    Yes, they are proper sub-species taxonomically speaking, and this is also supported by our genetic analysis. You can tell them apart by the leg’s coloration, and also behaviorally they are different in terms of colony size and when they aestivate/hibernate.



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