Landscape heterogeneity predicts gene flow in a widespread polymorphic bumble bee, Bombus bifarius (Hymenoptera: Apidae)
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- Lozier, J.D., Strange, J.P. & Koch, J.B. Conserv Genet (2013) 14: 1099. doi:10.1007/s10592-013-0498-3
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Bombus bifarius is a widespread bumble bee that occurs in montane regions of western North America. This species has several major color pattern polymorphisms and shows evidence of genetic structuring among regional populations, and the taxonomic status of regional populations has repeatedly been debated. We test whether observed structure is evidence for discrete gene flow barriers that might indicate isolation or instead reflects clinal variation associated with spatially limited dispersal in a complex landscape. We first consider color pattern variation and identify geographical patterns of B. bifarius color variation using cluster analysis. We then use climate data and a comprehensive set of B. bifarius natural history records with an existing genetic data set to model the distribution of environmentally suitable habitat in western North America and predict pathways of potential gene flow using circuit theory. Resistance distances among populations that incorporate environmental suitability information predict patterns of genetic structure much better than geographic distance or Bayesian clustering alone. Results suggest that there may not be barriers to gene flow warranting further taxonomic considerations, but rather that the arrangement of suitable habitat at broad scales limits dispersal sufficiently to explain observed levels of population differentiation in B. bifarius.