1. Increasing urbanisation is often cited as a cause of declining biodiversity, but for bumblebees there is evidence that urban populations of some species such as Bombus terrestris L. may be more dense than those found in agricultural landscapes, perhaps because gardens provide plentiful floral resources and nesting opportunities.
2. Here we examine the influence of urbanisation on the prevalence of the main protozoan parasites of bumblebees in west central Scotland. We would expect transmission rates and prevalence of parasites to be higher in high density host populations, all else being equal.
3. Workers of two bee species, B. terrestris and B. pascuorum, were sampled over a 45-day period in mid to late summer, and parasites were detected in faeces and via dissection. A comparison of the two methods suggests that faecal sampling is considerably less sensitive than dissection, failing to detect infection in 27.8%, 55.1%, and 80% of cases of infection with the parasites Crithidia bombi, Nosema bombi, and Apicystis bombi, respectively.
4. For all three parasites, broad patterns of prevalence were similar, with prevalence tending to increase with urbanisation in B. terrestris but not in B. pascuorum. The different patterns of seasonal prevalence in the two bee species suggest that intraspecific transmission is more important that interspecific transmission.
5. Our observation of greater parasite prevalence among B. terrestris in urban compared with rural areas suggests that urban habitats may present greater opportunities for parasite transmission. Greater bee densities in urban areas may be the driving factor; however, further study is still needed. For example, differences in disease prevalence between habitats could be driven by differences in the types and abundance of flowers that are available, or in exposure to environmental stressors.