Busier bees: increasing nest traffic in commercial bumblebee colonies
Commercially-reared bumblebee colonies contribute to the pollination of crops globally. If the efficiency of commercial colonies at providing pollination services could be increased, it would have implications for agricultural outputs. Commercial colonies are sold with an internal nectar reservoir on which bees can forage from within the nest. Nectar stores in naturally-produced nectar pots of colonies can affect forager recruitment and activity outside the nest. Thus, it is possible that artificial nectar reservoirs could impact the foraging activity of colonies. To investigate this, commercial Bombus terrestris audax colonies were placed in a university parkland campus. Colonies were split into three treatment groups: those with (1) access to an unaltered nectar reservoir; (2) access to a diluted reservoir; and (3) no reservoir access. Foraging observations were made for all colonies over a 19-day period. The mass of each colony was measured and demographic data were collected. Colonies with diluted reservoirs had 131% and 39% more bees entering and leaving than colonies with no reservoir access and unaltered reservoirs respectively. Both treatments with access to a nectar reservoir gained more mass, had a higher proportion of pollen foraging bees, and had more workers, males, larvae and pupae, than colonies with no access to a reservoir. These results demonstrate that manipulating the availability and concentration of internal nectar reservoirs of commercial B. terrestris colonies significantly affects the number of bees entering and leaving the colony. Dilution of the nectar reservoir could be a strategy for increasing the pollination services commercial colonies provide to crops. Further research in commercial crops is required before such a strategy could be implemented on farms.
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