Rarity and decline in bumblebees - A test of causes and correlates in the Irish fauna

U. Fitzpatrick, T.E. Murray, Robert Paxton, J. Breen, D. Cotton, V. Santorum, M.J.F. Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

162 Citations (Scopus)


Bees are believed to be in decline across many of the world's ecosystems. Recent studies on British bumblebees proposed alternative theories to explain declines. One study suggested that greater dietary specialization among the rarer bumblebee species makes them more susceptible to decline. A second study disputed this theory and found that declines in British bumblebees were correlated with the size of species' European ranges, leading to the suggestion that climate and habitat specialization may be better indicators of the risk of decline. Here we use a new and independent dataset based on Irish bumblebees to test the generality of these theories. We found that most of the same bumblebee species are declining across the British Isles, but that, within Ireland, a simple food-plant specialization model is inadequate to explain these declines. Furthermore, we found no evidence of a relationship between declines in Irish bumblebees and the size of species' European ranges. However, we demonstrate that the late emerging species have declined in Ireland (and in Britain), and that these species show a statistically significant westward shift to the extremity of their range, probably as a result of changing land use. Irish data support the finding that rare and declining bumblebees are later nesting species, associated with open grassy habitats. We suggest that the widespread replacement of hay with silage in the agricultural landscape, which results in earlier and more frequent mowing and a reduction in late summer wildflowers, has played a major role in bumblebee declines. (C) 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-194
Number of pages10
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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