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Harper Adams student looks at bumblebees' favourite flowers

Posted 31 August 2017

“Bumblebees have been studied since 1912, but there is still so much to learn, even though they are so vital to your livelihoods and economy."

The importance of bees for the environment and their declining numbers are both well-known facts.

Yet advice on what flowers provide the best foraging for a broad range of bumblebees has still not been established, but a student’s Honours Research Project (HRP) undertaken at Harper Adams University aimed to tackle this.

To be able to provide information for a number of different species, Jake Jones, 22, completed his research at RSPB Dungeness where 15 of the 24 different UK species of bumblebee have been recorded.

The final year BSc (Hons) Countryside and Environmental Management student from Lydd, Kent, said: “I wanted my HRP to tackle a real world problem.

“Bumblebees have been studied since 1912, but there is still so much to learn, even though they are so vital to your livelihoods and economy.

“If we could boost the number of bumblebees, it would help agriculture and conservation. I hope that the information I’ve gathered for my HRP will play a part in this.

“I found that the most popular flowers among the bumblebees were legume flowers called Red Clover Trifolium pratense. However, the study did show different preferences due to the bumblebee tongue lengths.

“The weather also proved to be an influential factor as the bees in the hot dry month of August changed their foraging behaviour and went on plants with larger root systems. An example of this was sunflowers; during the study 14 different bumblebee species were found on this plant."

Jake's dissertation has also highlighted areas of weakness and potential areas for further study.

“There’ve been previous studies into the flower preferences of bees in an agricultural setting, but these only featured seven species of bumblebees. Mine looked at 15 different bumblebee species. There are a total 24 species of bumblebees, with 16 species considered as true bumblebees. I didn’t want to provide advice on the best plants for a particular species, but instead plants which are beneficial to bees, and pollinators, as a whole.

“The data for my project has come from 5,000 records which were collected at the nature reserve over seven months last year.”

The sightings were recorded by volunteers who are trained in bee identification. They were part of an award-nominated project which re-introduced an extinct species of short-haired bumblebee back to the UK.

About his plans after finishing his degree, Jake said: “I’m hoping to take my skills learnt at Harper Adams to engage and promote nature to younger generations. I also wish to carry on with my research and interest into the sector by volunteering and being an active member in UK conservation efforts”.

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