Triploid bumblebees indicate a direct cost of inbreeding in fragmented populations


Ben Darvill, Fax: +01786 467819; E-mail:


Hymenopteran species with single-locus complimentary sex-determination (sl-CSD) face an additional cost of inbreeding because of a loss of diversity at the sex-determining locus. Laboratory studies of a range of Hymenoptera have found that a small percentage of diploid males produce viable diploid sperm, and that if these males mate, then the resultant females produce triploid offspring that are sterile. Here, we use microsatellite markers to determine the frequency of triploid individuals of Bombus muscorum and B. jonellus in a model island system. Triploids were found in populations of both species. Observed triploid frequencies of up to 8% were detected, and estimated total frequencies peaked at 20% with respect to normal diploid workers. For both species, triploid frequency was negatively correlated with surrogates of population size, providing direct evidence for inbreeding in small populations. Populations limited to <∼15 km2 of suitable habitat were particularly likely to harbour triploids. Estimated total triploid frequencies were higher in B. muscorum than in B. jonellus, perhaps due to the greater dispersal range of the latter species. Implications for the conservation of rare social hymenopterans are discussed.