The Panama microplate, island studies and relictual species of Melipona (Melikerria) (Hymenoptera: Apidae: Meliponini)



The endemic stingless honey-making bee Melipona (Melikerria) insularissp.n. on Coiba and Ranchería Islands in Pacific Panama is described, together with the proposed sister species, M. ambiguasp.n. from northeast Colombia. The Coiba Island group and Panama mainland were surveyed, yielding one meliponine endemic (M. insularissp.n.) and six meliponine genera and species. The poor Coiba fauna of amphibians and birds corresponds to the poor social bee fauna and suggests habitat barriers generally precluded recolonization from the mainland during glacial periods. Many animals became extinct, yet some remain as relicts. Melipona insularissp.n. was isolated on accreted terranes of Coiba rainforest in the Panama microplate. Morphology suggests that M. insularissp.n. is not a direct descendant of the San Blas-E. Panama endemic Melikerria, M. triplaridis. A phylogenetic hypothesis corroborates disjunct distributions. Rainforest endemics such as Peltogyne purpurea (Fabaceae) and Ptilotrigona occidentalis (Apidae, Meliponini) also occur as relictual, disjunct populations in Central and South America. These may have been isolated before accelerated biotic exchange began 2.4 Ma. Our work supports the geological findings of both a volcanic arc and the San Blas massif providing a substantial bridge for Melikerria from Colombia and Panama in Eocene to Miocene times. We suggest there have been taxon cycles permitting recolonization during glaciations, whereby colonies of M. insularissp.n. were able to recolonize Ranchería, a 250 ha island, 2 km from Coiba. However, rafting colonies nesting in trees, carried on vegetation mats, may have produced founding populations of Melipona in Central America and on oceanic islands such as Coiba.