Bumblebees discovered on Arctic island | Polarjournal
For the first time bumblebees were discovered on the island of Kolguev. (Photo: FECIAR UrB RAS)

Scientists from the Federal Research Center for Comprehensive Study of the Arctic discovered five species of bumblebees during the first genetic study of insects on Kolguev Island in the Barents Sea. This was reported by Grigory Potapov, a leading researcher in the laboratory of the Center for Subarctic Forest Ecosystems. Bees can travel great distances, which means that these species probably immigrated over 70 kilometers away from the mainland.

In total, scientists have identified five species of bumblebees: three large and two small. (Photo: Grigory Potapov)

“Before, such studies were not carried out, there were only individual collections,” Potapov said in an interview with TASS agency. Kolguev Island is not the typical habitat for bees. In some circumstances, climate change and warmer temperatures in the Arctic may have favored the bumblebees’ settlement.

“Kolguey Island is geologically young and was formed only a few thousand years ago, so all the insects there are migrants from the mainland,” Grigory Potapov explained.

Habitats and food resources of bumblebees on Kolguev Island. A) Willow sedge tundra with Polemonium acutiflorum, B) Meadow-like associations with Pedicularis species on the bank of the Bugryanka River, C) Willow sedge tundra with Geum rivale and Polemonium acutiflorum along a stream valley, D) Willow grass tundra on slopes with Pedicularis species. (Photo: Grigory Potapov)

Potapov says that Kolguev Island has very difficult conditions for the habitat of these insects. The island is located in the tundra zone and due to the flat landscape strong winds blow constantly.

An additional difficulty for the bumblebees living on the island is the absence of lemmings and voles. Insects often choose rodent burrows as nesting sites. If there are no holes, it becomes more difficult for them to find a place for a nest, the scientist said.

Such a variety of bumblebees colonizing such a barren island far north of the Arctic Circle is fascinating. Winters are extremely long and harsh, and hibernating queen bees must be able to withstand freezing temperatures for many months.

Kolguev Island is located in the south of the Barents Sea and 70 kilometers from the mainland. (Graphic: Heiner Kubny)

According to Potapov, all bumblebees from the mainland have settled on the island because they are able to migrate long distances. The width of the Pomor Strait, which separates Kolguev from the mainland, is only about 70 kilometers. Insects could certainly fly such a distance, the scientists said. According to their conjectures, some of the species may have come to Kolguev relatively recently.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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