UK bumblebee population trends

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Credit: Richard Comont

Data collected by Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BBCT) volunteers to assess the country's changing bumblebee populations have been analysed in a new way for the first time at the University of Kent – and show mixed results about their decline, with cause for concern for two species.

Data was analysed for the five commonest species in the BBCT's BeeWalk dataset. The two rarest species (Early Bumblebee Bombus pratorum and Red-tailed Bumblebee B. lapidarius) out of the five have declined since 2011 while the two commonest ones (Common Carder bumblebee B. pascuorum and Tree Bumblebee B. hypnorum) have increased. The Tree bumblebee, first found in the UK in 2001, has spread rapidly across the country.

Britain's 25 bumblebee species are some of the nation's favourite creatures and are also vital for the pollination of crops, garden plants and wildflowers. However, they have suffered huge declines over the past century: two species went extinct in the past 80 years, and eight species are endangered. These species were known to have declined in distribution over the long term but little was known about how bumblebee populations have changed more recently.

Hundreds of BeeWalk volunteers together walked nearly 5,000 kilometres each year to gather information about the numbers, species and caste (queens, workers or males) of the bumblebees they saw and identified.

Statistician Dr Eleni Matechou, of the Statistical Ecology at Kent group in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Actuarial Science (SMSAS), devised new methodology to analyse the data collected by BeeWalk. The new statistical methodology uses the UK-wide aggregate data on bumblebee detections and provides important information on each of the bumblebee species, such as the average number of worker and queen bumblebees produced from each nest per year.

Dr Matechou says: 'Volunteers do an impressive job at detecting bumblebees on their surveys and identifying their species and caste, when possible. The data collected so far have provided us with invaluable information on the state of UK bumblebee populations. However, if we had better data, we could decrease uncertainty around our estimates of population trends. We hope we can move this research forward by developing a dedicated BeeWalk smartphone app to help volunteers carry out their work thereby collecting even better-quality data and creating a new class of more sophisticated statistical models to analyse them.'

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Caste-Specific Demography and Phenology in Bumblebees: Modelling BeeWalk data by Eleni Matechou, Stephen N. Freeman and Richard Comont is published in the Journal of Agricultural, Biological, and Environmental Statistics. https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2Fs13253-018-0332-y.pdf

Sandy Fleming | Press Officer
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Gold for Kent in Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF)

Notes to editors.

Beewalk is a citizen science project led by the BBCT to gather data on bumblebee populations, starting in 2008. http://www.beewalk.org.uk

Established in 1965, the University of Kent – the UK's European university – now has almost 20,000 students across campuses or study centres at Canterbury, Medway, Tonbridge, Brussels, Paris, Athens and Rome.

It was ranked 22nd in the Guardian University Guide 2018 and in June 2017 was awarded a gold rating, the highest, in the UK Government's Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).

In 2018 it was also ranked in the top 500 of Shanghai Ranking's Academic Ranking of World Universities and 47th in the Times Higher Education's (THE) new European Teaching Rankings.

Kent is ranked 17th in the UK for research intensity (REF 2014). It has world-leading research in all subjects and 97% of its research is deemed by the REF to be of international quality.

Along with the universities of East Anglia and Essex, Kent is a member of the Eastern Arc Research Consortium.

The University is worth £0.7 billion to the economy of the south east and supports more than 7,800 jobs in the region. Student off-campus spend contributes £293.3m and 2,532 full-time-equivalent jobs to those totals.

Kent has received two Queen's Anniversary prizes for Higher and Further Education.

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Sandy Fleming
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Related Journal Article

http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s13253-018-0332-y

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