Diet characterisation of solitary bees on farmland: dietary specialisation predicts rarity
Changes in agricultural practice across Europe and North America have been associated with declines in wild bee populations. Bee diet breadth has been associated with sensitivity to agricultural intensification, but much of this analysis has been conducted at the categorical level of generalist or specialist, and it is not clear to what extent the level of generalisation within generalist species is also associated with species persistence. We used pollen load analysis to quantify the pollen diets of wild solitary bees on 19 farms across southern England, UK. A total of 72 species of solitary bees were recorded, but only 31 species were abundant enough to allow for formal diet characterisation. The results broadly conformed to existing literature with the majority of species polylectic and collecting pollen from a wide range of plants. Pollen load analysis consistently identified pollens from more plant species and families from each bee species than direct observation of their foraging behaviour. After rarefaction to standardise pollen load sample sizes, diet breadth was significantly associated with frequency of occurrence, with more generalist bees present on more farms than less generalist bees. Our results show that the majority of bee species present on farmland in reasonable numbers are widely variable in their pollen choices, but that those with the broadest diet were present on the greatest number of farms. Increasing the diversity of plants included in agri-environment schemes may be necessary to provide a wider range of pollen resources in order to support a diverse bee community on farmland.