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Conservation genetics, foraging distance and nest density of the scarce Great Yellow Bumblebee (Bombus distinguendus)

Authors

  • THOMAS G. CHARMAN,

    1. Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK
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    • Present address: Natural England, Ham Lane House, Ham Lane, Orton Waterville, Peterborough PE2 5UR, UK.

  • JANE SEARS,

    1. Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire SG19 2DL, UK
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  • RHYS E. GREEN,

    1. Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK
    2. Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire SG19 2DL, UK
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  • ANDREW F. G. BOURKE

    1. Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, Regent’s Park, London NW1 4RY, UK
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    • Present address: School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK.


Andrew F. G. Bourke, Fax: +44 (0)1603 592250; E-mail: a.bourke@uea.ac.uk

Abstract

The conservation genetics of bees is of particular interest because many bee species are in decline, so jeopardizing the essential ecosystem service of plant pollination that they provide. In addition, as social haplodiploids, inbred bees may be vulnerable to the extra genetic load represented by the production of sterile diploid males. Using microsatellite markers, we investigated the genetic structure of populations of the Great Yellow Bumblebee (Bombus distinguendus Morawitz) in the UK, where this species has undergone a precipitous decline. By means of a mixture of analytical methods and simulation, we also extended—and then applied—genetic methods for estimating foraging distance and nest density in wild bees. B. distinguendus populations were characterized by low expected heterozygosity and allelic richness, inbreeding coefficients not significantly different from zero, absence of detected diploid males, absence of substantial demographic bottlenecking, and population substructuring at large (c. 100+ km) but not small (10s of km) spatial scales. The minimum average effective population size at our sampling sites was low (c. 25). In coastal grassland (machair), the estimated modal foraging distance of workers was 391 m, with 95% of foraging activity occurring within 955 m of the nest, and estimated nest density was 19.3 nests km-2. These findings show that B. distinguendus exhibits some genetic features of scarce, declining or fragmented populations. Moreover, B. distinguendus workers appear to forage over above-average distances and nests remain thinly distributed even in current strongholds. These considerations should inform future conservation actions for this and similar species.

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