Get access

Population structure and inbreeding in a rare and declining bumblebee, Bombus muscorum (Hymenoptera: Apidae)


B. Darvill, Fax: 02380-594269; E-mail:


Owing to habitat loss populations of many organisms have declined and become fragmented. Vertebrate conservation strategies routinely consider genetic factors, but their importance in invertebrate populations is poorly understood. Bumblebees are important pollinators, and many species have undergone dramatic declines. As monoandrous social hymenopterans they may be particularly susceptible to inbreeding due to low effective population sizes. We study fragmented populations of a bumblebee species, on a model island system, and on mainland Great Britain where it is rare and declining. We use microsatellites to study: population genetic structuring and gene flow; the relationships between genetic diversity, population size and isolation; and frequencies of (sterile) diploid males — an indicator of inbreeding. We find significant genetic structuring (θ = 0.12) and isolation by distance. Populations > 10 km apart are all significantly differentiated, both on oceanic islands and on the mainland. Genetic diversity is reduced relative to closely related common species, and isolated populations exhibit further reductions. Of 16 populations, 10 show recent bottlenecking, and 3 show diploid male production. These results suggest that surviving populations of this rare insect suffer from inbreeding as a result of geographical isolation. Implications for the conservation of social hymenopterans are discussed.