Using ITS2 metabarcoding and microscopy to analyze shifts in pollen diets of honey bees and bumble bees along a mass-flowering crop gradient
Worldwide pollinator declines lead to pollination deficits in crops and wild plants, and managed bees are frequently used to meet the increasing demand for pollination. However, their foraging can be affected by flower availability and colony size. We investigated how mass-flowering oilseed rape (OSR) can influence the pollen resource use of small and large honey bee (Apis mellifera L.) and bumble bee (Bombus terrestris L.) colonies. Colonies were placed adjacent to strawberry fields along a gradient of OSR availability in the landscapes. We used ITS2 metabarcoding to identify the pollen richness based on ITS2 amplicon sequencing and microscopy for quantification of target pollen. Bumble bees collected pollen from more different plant genera than honey bees. In both species, strawberry pollen collection decreased with high OSR availability but was facilitated by increasing strawberry flower cover. Colony size had no effect. The relationship between NGS-generated ITS2 amplicon reads and microscopic pollen counts was positive but pollen type-specific. Bumble bees and, to a lesser degree, honey bees collected pollen from a wide variety of plants. Therefore, in order to support pollinators and associated pollination services, future conservation schemes should sustain and promote pollen plant richness in agricultural landscapes. Both bee species responded to the availability of flower resources in the landscape. Although honey bees collected slightly more strawberry pollen than bumble bees, both can be considered as crop pollinators. Metabarcoding could provide similar quantitative information as microscopy, taking into account the pollen types, however there remains still high potential to improve the methodological weaknesses.