High-severity wildfire limits available floral pollen quality and bumble bee nutrition compared to mixed-severity burns

Oecologia. 2020 Feb;192(2):489-499. doi: 10.1007/s00442-019-04577-9. Epub 2019 Dec 16.


High-severity wildfires, which can homogenize floral communities, are becoming more common relative to historic mixed-severity fire regimes in the Northern Rockies of the U.S. High-severity wildfire could negatively affect bumble bees, which are typically diet generalists, if floral species of inadequate pollen quality dominate the landscape post-burn. High-severity wildfires often require more time to return to pre-burn vegetation composition, and thus, effects of high-severity burns may persist past initial impacts. We investigated how wildfire severity (mixed- vs. high-severity) and time-since-burn affected available floral pollen quality, corbicular pollen quality, and bumble bee nutrition using percent nitrogen as a proxy for pollen quality and bumble bee nutrition. We found that community-weighted mean floral pollen nitrogen, corbicular pollen nitrogen, and bumble bee nitrogen were greater on average by 0.82%N, 0.60%N, and 1.16%N, respectively, in mixed-severity burns. This pattern of enhanced floral pollen nitrogen in mixed-severity burns was likely driven by the floral community, as community-weighted mean floral pollen percent nitrogen explained 87.4% of deviance in floral community composition. Only bee percent nitrogen varied with time-since-burn, increasing by 0.33%N per year. If these patterns persist across systems, our findings suggest that although wildfire is an essential ecosystem process, there are negative early successional impacts of high-severity wildfires on bumble bees and potentially on other pollen-dependent organisms via reductions in available pollen quality and nutrition. This work examines a previously unexplored pathway for how disturbances can influence native bee success via altering the nutritional landscape of pollen.

Keywords: Bombus spp.; Chronosequence; Floral resources; Pollination services; Pollinators.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees
  • Diet
  • Ecosystem
  • Nutritional Status
  • Pollen
  • Pollination
  • Wildfires*