Exploitative competition and displacement mediated by eusocial bees: experimental evidence in a wild pollinator community

Veronica Wignall, Matthew Brolly, Cassandra Uthoff, Kala Norton, Hannah Chipperfield, Nicholas Balfour, Francis Ratnieks

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Eusocial bees are likely to be ecologically important competitors for floral resources, although competitive effects can be difficult to quantify in wild pollinator communities. To investigate this, we excluded honeybees (HBE treatment), bumblebees (BBE) or both (HB&BBE) from wild-growing patches of bramble, Rubus fruticosus L. agg., flowers in two eight-day field trials at separate locations, with complementary mapping of per-site local floral resource availability. Exclusions increased per-flower volume of nectar and visitation rates of non-excluded bees, compared to control patches with no bee exclusions (CON). There was a large increase in average nectar standing crop volume both at Site 1 (+ 172%) and Site 2 (+ 137%) in HB&BBE patch flowers, and no significant change in HBE or BBE, compared to CON patches. Foraging bee responses to exclusion treatments were more pronounced at Site 2, which may be due to lower local floral resource availability, since this is likely to increase the degree of exploitative competition present. Notably, at Site 2, there was a 447% increase in larger-bodied solitary (non-Apis/Bombus) bees visiting HB&BBE patches, suggesting ecological release from competition. Hoverflies showed no response to bee removals. Numbers of other non-bee insect groups were very small and also showed no clear response to exclusions. Our findings reveal patterns of competitive exclusion between pollinator groups, mediated by resource depletion by eusocial bees. Possible long-term implications of displacement from preferred flowers, particularly where alternative forage is reduced, are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Article number152 (2020)
Number of pages15
JournalBehavioural Ecology and Sociobiology
Publication statusPublished - 27 Nov 2020


  • Apis mellifera
  • Bumblebees
  • Exploitative competition
  • Solitary bees
  • Foraging ecology


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