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Threatened bumble bee populations studied in Southampton

Published: 
14 September 2004

Work is underway by researchers at the University of Southampton's School of Biological Sciences to help halt the decline in bumble bees.

"Survival of at least five rare species is threatened by the spread of intensive agriculture destroying wild flowers and hedgerows, which are the bees' natural habitat," said Dr Dave Goulson, "Colonies do not seem able to survive in small areas such as nature reserves and many are dying out. Three species are already extinct in the UK."

Dr Goulson and his team of PhD students are using DNA fingerprinting to detect how many nests there are on islands in the Inner and Outer Hebrides where farming is more traditional and rare bees more common. They want to work out exactly how large the population has to be to survive.

Researchers also want to devise ways that farmers can encourage bumble bees to flourish on their land, such as by sowing wildflower strips and restoring hay-meadows.

Unlike honey bees, bumble bees construct a fresh nest every summer. The queen produces many sterile female workers, male drones and future queens but all except the newly-mated young queens die with the first frosts of autumn.

A £130,000 research grant for the project has come from the Leverhulme Trust with £50,000 from the C.B.Dennis Trust.

Notes for editors

The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship. The University has over 19,200 students and 4,800 staff and plays an important role in the City of Southampton. Its annual turnover is in the region of £250 million.

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