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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: Managing and Conserving Diverse Bee Pollinators for Sustainable Crop Production and Wildland Preservation

Location: Pollinating Insect-biology, Management, Systematics Research

Title: Molecular tools and bumble bees: revealing hidden details of ecology and evolution in a model system

Author
item Woodard, Sarah
item Lozier, Jeffrey
item Goulson, Dave
item Williams, Paul
item Strange, James - Jamie
item Jha, Shalene

Submitted to: Molecular Ecology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/8/2015
Publication Date: 5/1/2015
Citation: Woodard, S., Lozier, J., Goulson, D., Williams, P., Strange, J.P., Jha, S. 2015. Molecular tools and bumble bees: revealing hidden details of ecology and evolution in a model system. Molecular Ecology. 24(12):2916-2936.

Interpretive Summary: Here we present a review of the literature on molecular and genetic work involving bumble bees. Worldwide there are 250 species of bumble bees and several species are used commercially for pollination. The evolution of bumble bees is discussed and the gaps in our knowledge on this topic are discussed. The use of molecular genetics to explore economically and ecologically important traits of bumble bees has exploded in the last decade and the techniques underlying these studies has become more complex. The seminal studies in the field are reviewed and discussed and an analysis of the gaps in our knowledge is addressed.

Technical Abstract: Bumble bees are a longstanding model system for studies on behavior, ecology, and evolution, due to their well-studied social lifestyle, invaluable roles as both wild and managed pollinators, and their ubiquity and diversity across temperate ecosystems. Yet despite their importance, many aspects of bumble bee biology have remained elusive until the rise of the genetic and genomic eras. Here, we review and synthesize new insights into the ecology and evolution of bumble bees that have been gained using modern genetic and genomic techniques. Special emphasis is placed on four areas of bumble bee biology: 1) the origin of complex social life in this group; 2) population-level phenomena; 3) large-scale evolutionary relationships and patterns; and 4) immunity and resistance to pesticides. We close with a prospective on the future of bumble bee genomics research, as this rapidly advancing field has the potential to further revolutionize our understanding of bumble bees, particularly in regard to adaptation and resilience. Worldwide, many bumble bee populations are in decline. As such, throughout the review, connections are drawn between new molecular insights into bumble bees and our understanding of the causal factors involved in their decline. Ongoing and potential applications to bumble bee management and conservation are also included to demonstrate how genetics- and genomics-enabled research aids in the preservation of this threatened group.

Last Modified: 10/16/2017
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