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Bumble‐BEEHAVE: A systems model for exploring multifactorial causes of bumblebee decline at individual, colony, population and community level

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World‐wide declines in pollinators, including bumblebees, are attributed to a multitude of stressors such as habitat loss, resource availability, emerging viruses and parasites, exposure to pesticides, and climate change, operating at various spatial and temporal scales. Disentangling individual and interacting effects of these stressors, and understanding their impact at the individual, colony and population level are a challenge for systems ecology. Empirical testing of all combinations and contexts is not feasible. A mechanistic multilevel systems model (individual‐colony‐population‐community) is required to explore resilience mechanisms of populations and communities under stress. We present a model which can simulate the growth, behaviour and survival of six UK bumblebee species living in any mapped landscape. Bumble‐BEEHAVE simulates, in an agent‐based approach, the colony development of bumblebees in a realistic landscape to study how multiple stressors affect bee numbers and population dynamics. We provide extensive documentation, including sensitivity analysis and validation, based on data from literature. The model is freely available, has flexible settings and includes a user manual to ensure it can be used by researchers, farmers, policy‐makers, NGOs or other interested parties. Model outcomes compare well with empirical data for individual foraging behaviour, colony growth and reproduction, and estimated nest densities. Simulating the impact of reproductive depression caused by pesticide exposure shows that the complex feedback mechanisms captured in this model predict higher colony resilience to stress than suggested by a previous, simpler model. Synthesis and applications. The Bumble‐BEEHAVE model represents a significant step towards predicting bumblebee population dynamics in a spatially explicit way. It enables researchers to understand the individual and interacting effects of the multiple stressors affecting bumblebee survival and the feedback mechanisms that may buffer a colony against environmental stress, or indeed lead to spiralling colony collapse. The model can be used to aid the design of field experiments, for risk assessments, to inform conservation and farming decisions and for assigning bespoke management recommendations at a landscape scale.
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Keywords: Bombus terrestris; agent‐based modelling; bumblebees; colony decline; cross‐level interactions; foraging; multiple stressors; pollination

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2018

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