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Local Geographic Distributions of Bumblebees Near Crested Butte, Colorado: Competition and Community Structure

Graham H. Pyke
Ecology
Vol. 63, No. 2 (Apr., 1982), pp. 555-573
Published by: Wiley
DOI: 10.2307/1938970
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1938970
Page Count: 19
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Local Geographic Distributions of Bumblebees Near Crested Butte, Colorado: Competition and Community Structure
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Abstract

It was hypothesized that the local geographic distributions of bumblebees near Crested Butte, Colorado and the community patterns exhibited by these bumblebees are the products of competition for plants. To evaluate this hypothesis several transects were established and at regular intervals throughout a summer growing season, data were collected along each transect on how many bumblebees of each species and caste were visiting the various plant species. The distributions and abundances of the plant species involved were recorded qualitatively. Seven species of bumblebees accounted for 97% of all bumblebees observed and in this paper attention is restricted to these species. Five other species were observed in very low numbers. Each bumblebee species had a different distributional pattern. The seven bumblebee species form four groups in terms of both their proboscis lengths and the corolla lengths of the plants they preferentially visit. Long-, medium-, and short-tongued groups were most often observed foraging at flowers with long, medium, and short corollas, respectively. Furthermore proboscis lengths of bumblebees tended to be very similar within each group but quite dissimilar between groups. The fourth group consisted of a single short-tongued species which has well-developed mandibles which enable it to rob nectar from many plants with long corollas. It also feeds legitimately on short-corolla flowers. Some anomalies in the above groupings are mentioned and discussed. When the data on bumblebees and plant distributions are combined with data on flower preferences, a pattern consistent with the competition hypothesis emerges. Within each proboscis-length group, bumblebee species tend to replace one another altitudinally in a manner consistent with the hypothesis. The nectar-robbing species is most abundant in areas where a plant that is usually visited by hummingbirds is most common. Other species of bumblebees are unable to gain access to the nectar of this plant. In any uniform well-isolated area, similar floristically to the present study area, only three or four species of bumblebees appear to be able to coexist. Furthermore, a bumblebee community in such an area will apparently consist of a short-, a medium-, and a long-tongued species and in some cases a short-tongued nectar-robber. These patterns are also consistent with the competition hypothesis, as similarity in proboscis length reflects similarity in diet and the intensity of competition should, for these bumblebees, be closely related to diet similarity. It is possible that the observed distributional patterns could also be explained on the basis of different distributions of suitable nest sites for each bumblebee species or different responses to local variations in climatic conditions. Neither alternative seems able, however, to explain the observed patterns.

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