Phylogenetic relatedness and proboscis length contribute to structuring bumblebee communities in the extremes of abiotic and biotic gradients




To improve our understanding of how biological communities assemble, we investigated changes in bumblebee communities in space along an elevation gradient. We assessed how much deterministic abiotic and biotic factors shape community assembly. We focused on proboscis length (influencing the species' dietary regime) and phylogenetic relatedness to investigate if competition and environmental filtering occur in more and less productive climates, respectively.


Western Swiss Alps.


We recorded bumblebee species in 149 plots along a 1800-m wide elevation gradient. We contrasted two major clades of bumblebees, a short-tongued and a long-tongued clade. We calculated the phylogenetic and proboscis-length diversity of the bumblebee communities and compared these observed data with a random distribution to detect clustering likely to be caused by environmental filtering or overdispersion likely to be caused by competition. We compared the prevalence of clustered and overdispersed communities along the gradients of plant species richness (biotic) and temperature (abiotic).


Under colder conditions, where plant species richness is lower and floral resources are scarcer, the clade with shorter proboscides prevails over the clade with longer proboscides, and communities are functionally and phylogenetic clustered. Under warmer conditions, we found phylogenetic but not functional overdispersion in communities.

Main conclusions

We show for the first time a strong correlation between phylogenetic relatedness, proboscis length and species distribution along temperature and plant richness gradients shaping bumblebee communities. The low temperatures and low levels of plant species richness limit the dispersal of the species from the long-tongued clade, which have more specialized diets, into high-elevation areas. Competition under warmer conditions may produce communities composed of less closely related species that share distinct ecological preferences. Our empirical results corroborate theoretical expectation as well as experiments on the prevalence of deterministic processes in the most severe and most productive parts of environmental gradients.