New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2004) 28(2): 225-232

Distribution and forage use of exotic bumblebees in South Island, New Zealand

Research Article
D. Goulson  
M.E. Hanley  
  1. Division of Biodiversity and Ecology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Southampton, Biomedical Sciences Building, Bassett Crescent East, Southampton SO16 7PX. United Kingdom.

The rapid decline in bumblebee populations within Europe has been linked to habitat loss through agricultural intensification, and a consequential reduction in the availability of preferred forage plants. The successful introduction of four European Bombus species to the South Island of New Zealand from England (in 1885 and 1906) provides an opportunity to determine how important different forage plants (also introduced from the U.K.) are to two severely threatened European bumblebee species (Bombus ruderatus and B. subterraneus). In January 2003 we conducted a survey of bumblebee populations across 70 sites in the central and southern South Island, recording which plant species were being used as pollen and nectar sources for each Bombus species. All four bumblebee species showed a clear preference for plants of European origin. Only B. terrestris, the most polylectic species, was recorded feeding on native plant species. The longer-tongued bumblebees, B. hortorum, B. ruderatus, and B. subterraneus, foraged predominantly on just two plant species; Trifolium pratense for both nectar and pollen, and Echium vulgare for nectar. These plant species are now declining in abundance in the U.K. Our results provide support for the hypothesis that the loss of flower-rich meadows, particularly those containing populations of Fabaceae species with long corollae, is responsible for the decline of bumblebee species across Europe. Comparison with earlier bumblebee surveys suggests that long-tongued bumblebees may also be in decline in New Zealand, particularly B. subterraneus which is now very localised and scarce.