Study: Bumblebees May Be Faring Better in Cities Than in the Countryside

JoAnna Klein reported yesterday at The New York Times Online that, “Cities are filled with buildings, people and concrete — usually not seen as the ideal place for anything wild but nightlife.

“But then there are the bumblebees of London. They may be faring better than their relatives in the English countryside, suggests a study published Tuesday in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“‘We’re not saying from this that urban areas are the solution to bumblebee declines or that urban areas are the ideal habitat,’ said Ash Samuelson, a graduate student at Royal Holloway University of London in Britain and lead author of the study. ‘But given the choice of two unnatural situations, they’re actually able to exploit that city environment, which is very different to what they evolved in.'”

The Times article stated that, “Bumblebees are important pollinators for flowers and crops that benefit from their vibrating pollination style. But pesticides, disease and habitat loss are wiping out all types of bees, worldwide. Oddly, as sprawling cities and vast agricultural fields replace forests and meadows, people have noticed more bumblebees buzzing around cities. Dr. Samuelson wanted to know if these bees were simply traveling to cities when agricultural fields ran out of food or if they actually were surviving better there and having more babies.

“In the past 80 years, expanding urban areas in England have been found to host more species and lose fewer pollinators than agricultural areas. City parks and gardens provide a variety of flowers and foraging opportunities for bees throughout the season. Most agricultural fields offer bees only one type of flower, for a limited time. Some biologists have suggested that cities may provide refuge for bees.”

Ms. Klein also explained, “The new research offers a relief and a warning: It is positive that bumblebees can exploit city resources, but agricultural fields of the future should be more bee friendly. That may require extra landscaping for farms; research has shown that planting wildflowers or flowering hedgerows near crop fields can help restore pollinator habitat and foraging opportunities.”

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