Cryptic species diversity in a widespread bumble bee complex revealed using mitochondrial DNA RFLPs

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Cryptic species diversity is thought to be common within the class Insecta, posing problems for basic ecological and population genetic studies and conservation management. Within the temperate bumble bee (Bombus spp.) fauna, members of the subgenus Bombus sensu stricto are amongst the most abundant and widespread. However, their species diversity is controversial due to the extreme difficulty or inability morphologically to identify the majority of individuals to species. Our character-based phylogenetic analyses of partial CO1 (700 bp) from 39 individuals spread across their sympatric European ranges provided unequivocal support for five taxa (3–22 diagnostic DNA base pair sites per species). Inclusion of 20 Irish specimens to the dataset revealed ≥2.3% sequence divergence between taxa and ≤1.3% within taxa. We developed a PCR-RFLP based method for unequivocally distinguishing amongst the four cryptic European taxa of this subgenus, B. cryptarum, B. lucorum, B. magnus and B. terrestris, and used it to analyse 391 females of the former three species collected across Ireland, all of which could be unambiguously assigned to species. Bombus lucorum was the most widely distributed and abundant of the cryptarum–lucorum–magnus species complex, comprising 56% of individuals, though it was significantly less abundant at higher altitudes (>200 m) whilst B. cryptarum was relatively more abundant at higher altitudes. Bombus magnus was rarely encountered at urban sites. Both B. lucorum and B. terrestris are nowadays reared commercially for pollination and transported globally. Our RFLP approach to identify native fauna can underpin ecological studies of these important cryptic species as well as the impact of commercial bumble bees on them.

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