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Title: The ecology and population genetics of a complex of cryptic bumblebee species
Author: Scriven, Jessica J.
ISNI:       0000 0004 5991 9943
Awarding Body: University of Stirling
Current Institution: University of Stirling
Date of Award: 2016
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Bumblebees are ecologically and economically important as pollinators, but some species are suffering severe declines and range contractions. In this thesis, three cryptic bumblebee species are studied to elucidate differences in their distribution, ecology and population genetics. As a result of their high morphological similarity, very little is known about the lucorum complex species: B. lucorum, B, cryptarum and B. magnus. In this study, their distributions across Great Britain were assessed using molecular methods, revealing that B. lucorum was the most abundant and most generalist of the three species, whereas B. magnus was the rarest and most specialised, occurring almost exclusively on heathland. Additionally, both B. magnus and B. cryptarum were more likely to be present at sites with cooler summer temperatures. Cryptic species represent interesting models to investigate the levels of niche differentiation required to avoid competitive exclusion. Characterising the niches of these species at a single site across the flight season revealed differences along three niche dimensions: temporal activity, weather sensitivity and forage-resource use. These species exhibited asymmetric niche overlap; a combination of ecological divergence and spatio-temporal heterogeneity may contribute to maintaining them in sympatry. Population genetic studies can be highly informative for understanding species ecology and for conservation management. The differences in habitat specialisation exhibited by these bumblebee species provide the opportunity to test conflicting hypotheses about links between dispersal and ecological specialisation: are habitat specialists selected to have low or high dispersal ability? Based on microsatellite analysis, the generalist B. lucorum had high levels of genetic diversity and little population structure across large spatial scales. The habitat specialist B. magnus had the lowest genetic diversity but similar levels of population differentiation to the moderate generalist, B. cryptarum. However, unlike B. cryptarum, B. magnus population differentiation was not affected by geographic distance, suggesting that this specialist species may maintain effective dispersal across large scales despite being restricted to a fragmented habitat. Bergmann’s rule is a well-known ecogeographic rule describing geographical patterns of body size variation, whereby larger endothermic species are found more commonly at higher latitudes. Ectotherms, including insects, have been suggested to follow converse Bergmann’s gradients, but the facultatively endothermic nature of bumblebees makes it unclear which pattern they should adhere to. This thesis reports caste-specific differences in body size between the three lucorum complex species in agreement with Bergmann’s rule: queens and males of B. cryptarum and B. magnus, which were found more commonly at higher latitudes and at sites with cooler temperatures, were larger than those of B. lucorum. Population genetic studies of invertebrates generally require the destruction of large numbers of individuals, which is often undesirable. Testing a variety of faecal collection and DNA extraction methods demonstrated that it is possible to obtain DNA of sufficient quality for genotyping from bumblebee faeces, without harming the individuals. This method would be valuable for studies of rare or declining bee species, for queens in reintroduction projects, and may be applicable to other arthropods. Overall this thesis contributes substantially to our knowledge of the ecology and population genetics of three important pollinator species. It provides data to inform species conservation, as well as understanding of ecosystem functioning and population dynamics. Furthermore, it successfully uses these cryptic species as a model to test several fundamental ecological theories.
Supervisor: Tinsley, Matthew C. ; Whitehorn, Penelope R. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Bombus ; Hymenoptera ; bumblebees ; cryptic species ; conservation ; distribution ; population genetics ; ecology ; niches ; Pollination by bees ; Bumblebees--Conservation ; Bumblebees--Ecology ; Wildlife habitat improvement