Physiological stress and higher reproductive success in bumblebees are both associated with intensive agriculture


Free-living organisms face multiple stressors in their habitats, and habitat quality often affects development and life history traits. Increasing pressures of agricultural intensification have been shown to influence diversity and abundance of insect pollinators, and it may affect their elemental composition as well. We compared reproductive success, body concentration of carbon (C) and nitrogen (N), and C/N ratio, each considered as indicators of stress, in the buff-tailed bumblebee (textitBombus terrestris). Bumblebee hives were placed in oilseed rape fields and semi-natural old apple orchards. Flowering season in oilseed rape fields was longer than that in apple orchards. Reproductive output was significantly higher in oilseed rape fields than in apple orchards, while the C/N ratio of queens and workers, an indicator of physiological stress, was lower in apple orchards, where bumblebees had significantly higher body N concentration. We concluded that a more productive habitat, oilseed rape fields, offers bumblebees more opportunities to increase their fitness than a more natural habitat, old apple orchards, which was achieved at the expense of physiological stress, evidenced as a significantly higher C/N ratio observed in bumblebees inhabiting oilseed rape fields.