High-resolution distribution of bumblebees (Bombus spp.) in a mountain area marked by agricultural decline
Since the 1980s, bumblebee species have declined in Europe, partly because of agricultural intensification. Yet little is known about the potential consequences of agricultural decline on bumblebees. In most mountainous areas, agricultural decline from rural exodus is acute and alters landscapes as much as intensive farming. Our study aims at providing a quantitative assessment of agricultural decline through its impact on landscapes, and at characterising bumblebee assemblages associated with land-use types of mountain regions. The studied area (6.2 km2) belongs to the Eyne’s valley in the French Pyrenees, known to host the exceptional number of 33 bumblebee species of the 45 found in continental France. We compare aerial photographs from 1953 and 2000 to quantify agricultural decline. We cross a bumblebee database (2849 observations) with land-use types interpreted from aerial photographs from 2000. Comparison of land-use maps from 1953 and 2000 reveals a strong progression of woodland and urbanised areas, and a decline of agricultural land (pastures and crops), except for hayfields. Spatial correlations between low altitude agro-pastoral structure and the occurrence of bumblebee species shows that bumblebee specific richness is highest in agro-pastoral land-uses (pastures and hayfields) and in the ski area, and poorest in woodland and urbanised areas. Urbanisation and agricultural decline, through increased woodland areas, could lead to a loss of bumblebee diversity in the future. To preserve high bumblebee richness, it is crucial to design measures to maintain open land habitats and the landscape’s spatial heterogeneity through agro-pastoral practices.