Nest architecture and genetic differentiation in a species complex of Australian stingless bees


P. Franck. Present address: UMR Ecologie des Invertébrés, INRA-UAPV, Agro Parc Domaine St-Paul, 84914 AVIGNON Cedex 9, France. Fax: +33 (0)4 3272 2602; E-mail:


We investigated the taxonomic significance of nest shape and its putative role in speciation in Trigona (Heterotrigona) carbonaria and T. (H.) hockingsi, two sibling species of stingless bee species from eastern Australia. These species are primarily distinguished by their nest architecture, as in all other respects they are nearly identical. We genotyped 130 colonies from six locations in Queensland at 13 microsatellite loci together with 106 additional colonies from six other Indo-Pacific Trigona species. Whether they were present in allopatry or in sympatry, colonies that displayed the T. carbonaria or the T. hockingsi nest architecture could be unambiguously differentiated at the genetic level. However, T. hockingsi colonies were classifiable into two highly differentiated paraphyletic and geographically separate populations, one in northern and one in southern Queensland. These two populations probably belong to two distinct species, T. hockingsi and T. davenporti nov. sp. Our results suggest that nest architecture characters are relevant but not sufficient criteria to identify species in this group. Consequently, modifications of nest architecture are probably not of prime importance in the speciation process of Australian stingless bees, although nest architecture differences probably result from relatively simple mechanisms. The rare interspecific hybrid colonies detected did not display a nest with an intermediate form between T. hockingsi and T. carbonaria.