Biogeography and designatable units of Bombus occidentalis Greene and B. terricola Kirby (Hymenoptera: Apidae) with implications for conservation status assessments

Abstract

Conservation action for species of concern requires that “designatable units” (e.g., species, subspecies, geographic races, genetically distinct forms) are clearly defined, or that the species complex is treated as a whole. Several species of bumble bee are currently threatened, and some of these have cryptic colouration (resembling other species), or form complexes that vary considerably in colour patterning. Here we address the taxonomy and distribution of Bombus occidentalis Greene and B. terricola Kirby, both of which are currently of conservation concern in North America. Bombus occidentalis includes two apparently monophyletic groups of COI barcode haplotypes (recently considered as subspecies) with ranges mostly separated by that of their sister species, B. terricola. The southern B. o. occidentalis ranges throughout the western United States and into western Canada from southern Saskatchewan and Alberta, and throughout British Columbia north to ca. 55°N; the northern B. o. mckayi Ashmead, is restricted to north of this in British Columbia, westernmost Northwest Territories, Yukon Territory and Alaska. Bombus o. mckayi exists, as far as is known, only with a “banded” colour pattern. By contrast, B. o. occidentalis occurs in both banded and non-banded colour patterns, although the southern banded colour pattern is geographically isolated from the northern subspecies. Bombus o. occidentalis has declined throughout its range, perhaps due in part to exposure to novel parasites. Despite having similar levels of parasitism (ca. 40 %) as the southern subspecies, B. o. mckayi appears to have stable populations at present. There is therefore compelling evidence that the two subspecies should be distinguished for conservation and management purposes. We present the evidence for their distinction and provide tools for subspecies recognition.

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Acknowledgments

We thank the following for access to bumble bee specimens for colour pattern determination: John Ascher and Jerry Rozen (American Museum of Natural History), Claudia Copley (Royal British Columbia Museum), Matthias Buck (Royal Alberta Museum), Barb Sharanowski (University of Manitoba), Andy Bennett and Sophie Cardinal (Canadian National Collection), and Laurence Packer (York University). In addition, we thank the data contributors from the museums and academic collections outlined in Online Resource 3. Thanks are also extended to those who assisted in collecting specimens in 2013; in BC: Dawn Marks, Brittany King, Joanne Neilson and Lynn Wescott; in AB: Gary Anweiler; in SK: Danae Frier, Graham Rothwell, Sam Jaques, Nick Cairns, Shelby Stecyk, Sarah MacDonald, Allie Gallon, Leanne Heisler, Ashley Fortney, Marla Anderson. Thanks also to Scott Tarof (Earth Rangers) for support and encouragement during this study. Funding in part for this study was provided by the Earth Rangers “Bring Back the Wild” campaign.

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Sheffield, C.S., Richardson, L., Cannings, S. et al. Biogeography and designatable units of Bombus occidentalis Greene and B. terricola Kirby (Hymenoptera: Apidae) with implications for conservation status assessments. J Insect Conserv 20, 189–199 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10841-016-9853-2

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Keywords

  • Bombus
  • Cryptic species
  • Species at risk
  • Conservation
  • DNA barcode
  • Distribution