Can winter-active bumblebees survive the cold? Assessing the cold tolerance of Bombus terrestris audax and the effects of pollen feeding

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Abstract

There is now considerable evidence that climate change is disrupting the phenology of key pollinator species. The recently reported UK winter activity of the bumblebee Bombus terrestris brings a novel set of thermal challenges to bumblebee workers that would typically only be exposed to summer conditions. Here we assess the ability of workers to survive acute and chronic cold stress (via lower lethal temperatures and lower lethal times at 0°C), the capacity for rapid cold hardening (RCH) and the influence of diet (pollen versus nectar consumption) on supercooling points (SCP). Comparisons are made with chronic cold stress indices and SCPs in queen bumblebees. Results showed worker bees were able to survive acute temperatures likely to be experienced in a mild winter, with queens significantly more tolerant to chronic cold temperature stress. The first evidence of RCH in any Hymenoptera is shown. In addition, dietary manipulation indicated the consumption of pollen significantly increased SCP temperature. These results are discussed in the light of winter active bumblebees and climate change. © 2013 Owen et al.

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Owen, E. L., Bale, J. S., & Hayward, S. A. L. (2013). Can winter-active bumblebees survive the cold? Assessing the cold tolerance of Bombus terrestris audax and the effects of pollen feeding. PLoS ONE, 8(11). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0080061

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