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Seasonal variation in exploitative competition between honeybees and bumblebees

Veronica R. Wignall, Isabella Campbell Harry, Natasha L. Davies, Stephen D. Kenny, Jack K. McMINN, Francis L. W. Ratnieks
Published: 16 December 2019
Oecologia , Volume 192, pp 351-361; doi:10.1007/s00442-019-04576-w

Abstract: Honeybees (Apis mellifera) and bumblebees (Bombus spp.) often undergo exploitative competition for shared floral resources, which can alter their foraging behaviour and flower choice, even causing competitive exclusion. This may be strongest in summer, when foraging conditions are most challenging for bees, compared to other times of the year. However, the seasonal dynamics of competition between these major pollinator groups are not well understood. Here, we investigate whether the strength of exploitative competition for nectar between honeybees and bumblebees varies seasonally, and whether competitive pressure is greatest in summer months. We carried out experimental bee exclusion trials from May to late September, using experimental patches of lavender, variety Grosso, in full bloom. In each trial, we compared the numbers of honeybees (HB) foraging on patches from which bumblebees had been manually excluded (bumblebee excluded, BBE) versus control (CON) patches, HB(BBE-CON). This measure of exploitative competition varied significantly with season. As expected, mean HB(BBE-CON) was significantly greater in summer trials than in spring or autumn trials. This was despite high nectar standing crop volumes in BBE patch flowers in spring and autumn trials. Mean HB(BBE-CON) was not different between spring and autumn trials. Our results show that nectar competition between honeybees and bumblebees varies seasonally and is stronger in summer than spring or autumn, adding to current understanding of the seasonality of resource demand and competition between bee species. This information may also help to inform conservation programs aiming to increase floral resources for bees by showing when these resources are most needed.
Keywords: ecology / bees / Seasonality / competitive exclusion / resource availability

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