Targeted agri-environment schemes significantly improve the population size of common farmland bumblebee species
Changes in agricultural practice across Europe and North America have been associated with range contractions and local extinction of bumblebees (Bombus spp.). A number of agri-environment schemes have been implemented to halt and reverse these declines, predominantly revolving around the provision of additional forage plants. Although it has been demonstrated that these schemes can attract substantial numbers of foraging bumblebees, it remains unclear to what extent they actually increase bumblebee populations. We used standardized transect walks and molecular techniques to compare the size of bumblebee populations between Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) farms implementing pollinator-friendly schemes and Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) control farms. Bumblebee abundance on the transect walks was significantly higher on HLS farms than ELS farms. Molecular analysis suggested maximum foraging ranges of 566 m for Bombus hortorum, 714 m for B. lapidarius, 363 m for B. pascuorum and 799 m for B. terrestris. Substantial differences in maximum foraging range were found within bumblebee species between farm types. Accounting for foraging range differences, B. hortorum (47 vs 13 nests/km2) and B. lapidarius (45 vs 22 nests/km2) were found to nest at significantly greater densities on HLS farms than ELS farms. There were no significant differences between farm type for B. terrestris (88 vs 38 nests/km2) and B. pascuorum (32 vs 39 nests/km2). Across all bumblebee species, HLS management had a significantly positive effect on bumblebee nest density. These results show that targeted agri-environment schemes that increase the availability of suitable forage can significantly increase the size of wild bumblebee populations.