Bumblebees on the mountain

I find it of paramount importance that students learn how to communicate their research. Summarizing their ideas and findings for a broad audience challenges them to keep the ‘why’ in mind for their research, and reminds them they are part of a bigger effort to solve the remaining mysteries of our world. In this mini series, all master students of this academic year present their work in around 300 words. Third post: Renée Lejeune.

In this project, we try to link distribution limits of the plant species present on the ‘Nuolja’ mountain in the Scandinavian tundra with pollinator presence. Plant surveys were done along a specific transect on Nuolja to determine all the present species and their abundance per location. The transect consist of 13 locations along the whole elevation gradient. The same 13 locations were also used for the bumblebee surveys. Per location, bumblebees were surveyed in one big plot, and vegetation was surveyed in 4 smaller plots equally distributed in the different quadrants (A, B, C & D)(see figures below).

During bumblebee surveys all visited plant species were noted down. The research will only focus on the plant species visited by bumblebees. For these selected plant species the elevation limit can be determined and since plant surveys were done in previous years as well, a possible shift in elevation limit can be seen. For the bumblebees similar elevation limits can be determined and also a possible shift in these limits. Depending on how well both elevation limits match with each other, we can calculate how much variation in the plant distribution can be explained by the presence of pollinators.

We hypothesize several possibilities: for example, when bumblebees occur all across the elevational gradient on different plant species, we could expect a smaller or even no effect on upward plant movement. A bigger effect might on the other hand be seen when the bumblebees themselves are limited to certain heights and plant species moving up would thus have to wait for their pollinators. Disentangling these relationships is important to understand the role of pollinators as facilitators – or hindrances – for plant distribution changes. This can also give a better idea of how climate change directly and indirectly, through pollinators, affects plant distribution.

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