Landscape genetics of a tropical rescue pollinator
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Pollination services are increasingly threatened by the loss and modification of natural habitats, posing a risk to the maintenance of both native plant biodiversity and agricultural production. In order to safeguard pollination services, it is essential to examine the impacts of habitat degradation on the population dynamics of key pollinators and identify potential “rescue pollinators” capable of persisting in these human-altered landscapes. Using a landscape genetic approach, we assessed the impact of landscape structure on genetic differentiation in the widely-distributed tropical stingless bee Trigona spinipes (Apidae: Meliponini) across agricultural landscape mosaics composed of coffee plantations and Atlantic forest fragments in southeastern Brazil. We genotyped 115 bees at 16 specific and highly polymorphic microsatellite loci, developed using next-generation sequencing. Our results reveal that T. spinipes is capable of dispersing across remarkably long distances, as we did not find genetic differentiation across a 200 km range, nor fine-scale spatial genetic structure. Furthermore, gene flow was not affected by forest cover, land cover, or elevation, indicating that reproductive individuals are able to disperse well through agricultural landscapes and across altitudinal gradients. We also found evidence of a recent population expansion, suggesting that this opportunistic stingless bee is capable of colonizing degraded habitats. Our results thus suggest that T. spinipes can persist in heavily-altered landscapes and can be regarded as a rescue pollinator, potentially compensating for the decline of other native pollinators in degraded tropical landscapes.
KeywordsAgricultural landscapes Tropical forest cover Gene flow Landscape resistance Pollination services Stingless bees
We thank Larissa Boesing, Adrian González, Pedro Leite and Fernanda Saturni for help during the collection of bees, Silvia Pedro and Airton Carvalho for the identification of bee specimens, Sónia Andrade for the bioinformatic processing related to the development of microsatellites, the coffee farmers for allowing us access to their farms, and Mr. Marcus Leite for providing logistical support in the field. Funding was provided by FAPESP (RJ: 2012/13200-5 and 2013/23661-2, Interface Project: 2013/23457-6) and an NSF predoctoral fellowship (NP).
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