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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Pollinating Insect-biology, Management, Systematics Research

Title: Patterns of range-wide genetic variation in six North American bumble bee (Apidae: Bombus) species

item Lozier, Jeffrey
item Strange, James - Jamie
item Stewart, Isaac
item Cameron, Sydney

Submitted to: Molecular Ecology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 9/8/2011
Publication Date: 12/1/2011
Citation: Lozier, J.D., Strange, J.P., Stewart, I.J., Cameron, S.A. 2011. Patterns of range-wide genetic variation in six North American bumble bee (Apidae: Bombus) species. Molecular Ecology. 20(23): 4870-4888.

Interpretive Summary: Recent studies have documented that some species of bumble bees in the United States are declining; however, the cause of these declines is unclear. One possible factor in the decline may be that differences in the genetic diversity of species lead some species to be more vulnerable to declines than others. We examined the genetic diversity of six species in the United States that were either declining (2 species) or stable (4 species) using DNA markers called microsatellites. The results showed that both of the declining species have lower genetic diversity than some of the stable species, but that at least one common and stable species also has lower genetic diversity. So differences in genetic diversity do not fully account for species decline. Additionally, we found that in two species, significant genetic differentiation has occurred suggesting that separate populations should be managed individually in conservation efforts. Finally, we found that populations of bumble bees that are found on islands near the coast of the U.S. mainland have higher levels of genetic differentiation than mainland populations that are separated by hundreds of miles, suggesting that gene flow over open water is very limited in most species. All of these factors may be important in developing conservation strategies for these important pollinators.

Technical Abstract: The increasing evidence for population declines in bumble bee (Bombus) species worldwide has accelerated research efforts to explain losses in these important native pollinators. In North America, a number of once widespread Bombus species have suffered serious reductions in range and abundance, although other species remain healthy. To examine whether declining and stable species exhibit different levels of genetic diversity or population fragmentation, we genotyped a set of microsatellite markers from populations sampled across the geographic distributions of two declining and four stable Bombus species. Results show that populations of declining species generally have reduced levels of genetic diversity throughout their range compared to co-distributed stable species. Genetic diversity can be affected by overall range size and degree of isolation of local populations, which may confound comparisons among species in some cases. We find no evidence for consistent differences in gene flow among stable and declining species, with all species exhibiting strikingly weak genetic differentiation over large distances (e.g., >1,000 km). Populations on offshore islands and at high elevations experience relatively strong genetic drift, suggesting that some ecological conditions lead to genetic isolation in otherwise weakly differentiated species. Two species, B. bifarius and B. occidentalis, exhibit stronger genetic differentiation than the other four species, indicating more complex phylogeographic histories consistent with their broader geographic distributions in topologically heterogeneous regions of western North America. Screening of North American bumble bees for genetic diversity may prove to be a useful tool for rapidly identifying species of conservation concern. Development of conservation strategies allowing high intraspecific gene flow will help maintain cohesive populations that will help to prevent future declines in Bombus biodiversity.

Last Modified: 10/18/2017
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