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Scientists find five bumblebee species on Kolguev Island in Arctic

It is stressed that bumblebees are able to migrate over quite long distances

ARKHANGELSK, November 7. /TASS/. Experts of the Federal Arctic Studies Center (the Russian Academy of Sciences' Urals Branch) found five species of bumblebees on the Kolguev Island in the Barents Sea. Genetic studies of insects on this Arctic island were conducted for the first time, the Center's expert and the research group's leader Grigory Potapov told TASS.

"Studies of the kind have not been conducted earlier, there have been only separate collections," he said. "We have conducted an inventory of this pollinating insect group on the Kolguev. Genetic studies of the insects on the Kolguev have been conducted for the first time. During the studies, we have found five species of bumblebees: three numerous and two small species."

Bombus lapponicus, B. pyrrhopygus, B. Balteatus are common species, and the rare species are Bombus flavidus, and B. jonellus. They all have settled on the island from the mainland. "From the geological point of view, this island is young - it was formed a few thousand years ago, and therefore all the insect fauna there are migrants from the mainland," he added.

Bumblebees are able to migrate over quite long distances. The Pomor Strait, which separates the Kolguev from the mainland, is about 70 km wide. Insects may well fly such a distance, and probably some of the species have got to the Kolguev relatively recently.

Difficult living conditions

The Kolguev has difficult conditions for bumblebees. The island is in the tundra zone, and the landscape is rather flat, thus winds on the island are blowing constantly. "Additionally, in the changing climate, a number of species has been moving northbound. Quite possible are future changes in the fauna - if the climate becomes warmer, this change will definitely affect some Arctic species, and may even cause their extinction on that island. However, so far, the bumblebee populations are in stable conditions," the scientist added.

The island's severe climate is not the only problem for bumblebees. "There are no lemmings or voles on the Kolguev," the expert continued. "Very often bumblebees use rodents' burrows, including those of lemmings, to organize nesting sites, and by doing so they have no problems in finding a place suitable for the nest. Without such burrows, such suitable places are much fewer for them. This explains why their number is less than it could have been should there be rodents and their burrows on the island. In that case, bumblebees could find more places where they could settle."

On the Kolguev Island, bumblebees often nest in river valleys, if there are cliffs there, and in hummocks. For example, the scientists have found the Lapland bumblebee nest right in a hummock.

Bumblebees are one of the few insects pollinating flowering plants in the Arctic. Therefore, conditions of bumblebee populations are top important for harvests of cloudberries, cranberries, and blueberries in the tundra ecosystems. Arctic bumblebee species react to the climate and weather changes. For example, the cases of summer frosts, which may kill insects, affect the wild plants productivity.

The Arctic Center's scientists also plan to study on the Kolguev Island the population of hoverflies (sirfid flies). These black-and-yellow insects look very much like bees or wasps.