Shining a light on species coexistence: visual traits drive bumblebee communities

Océane Bartholomée*, Ciara Dwyer, Pierre Tichit, Paul Caplat, Emily Baird, Henrik G. Smith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Downloads (Pure)


Local coexistence of bees has been explained by flower resource partitioning, but coexisting bumblebee species often have strongly overlapping diets. We investigated if light microhabitat niche separation, underpinned by visual traits, could serve as an alternative mechanism underlying local coexistence of bumblebee species. To this end, we focused on a homogeneous flower resource—bilberry—in a heterogeneous light environment—hemi-boreal forests. We found that bumblebee communities segregated along a gradient of light intensity. The community-weighted mean of the eye parameter—a metric measuring the compromise between light sensitivity and visual resolution—decreased with light intensity, showing a higher investment in light sensitivity of communities observed in darker conditions. This pattern was consistent at the species level. In general, species with higher eye parameter (larger investment in light sensitivity) foraged in dimmer light than those with a lower eye parameter (higher investment in visual resolution). Moreover, species realized niche optimum was linearly related to their eye parameter. These results suggest microhabitat niche partitioning to be a potential mechanism underpinning bumblebee species coexistence. This study highlights the importance of considering sensory traits when studying pollinator habitat use and their ability to cope with changing environments.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20222548
Number of pages11
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences
Issue number1996
Early online date12 Apr 2023
Publication statusPublished - 12 Apr 2023


  • Ecology
  • Research articles
  • bilberry
  • bumblebees
  • microhabitat niche partitioning
  • sensory traits
  • vision


Dive into the research topics of 'Shining a light on species coexistence: visual traits drive bumblebee communities'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this