The increasing evidence for population declines in bumble bee (Bombus) species worldwide has accelerated research efforts to explain losses in these important pollinators. In North America, a number of once widespread Bombus species have suffered serious reductions in range and abundance, although other species remain healthy. To examine whether declining and stable species exhibit different levels of genetic diversity or population fragmentation, we used microsatellite markers to genotype populations sampled across the geographic distributions of two declining (Bombus occidentalis and Bombus pensylvanicus) and four stable (Bombus bifarius; Bombus vosnesenskii; Bombus impatiens and Bombus bimaculatus) Bombus species. Populations of declining species generally have reduced levels of genetic diversity throughout their range compared to codistributed stable species. Genetic diversity can be affected by overall range size and degree of isolation of local populations, potentially confounding comparisons among species in some cases. We find no evidence for consistent differences in gene flow among stable and declining species, with all species exhibiting weak genetic differentiation over large distances (e.g. >1000 km). Populations on islands and at high elevations experience relatively strong genetic drift, suggesting that some conditions lead to genetic isolation in otherwise weakly differentiated species. B. occidentalis and B. bifarius exhibit stronger genetic differentiation than the other species, indicating greater phylogeographic structure consistent with their broader geographic distributions across topographically complex regions of western North America. Screening genetic diversity in North American Bombus should prove useful for identifying species that warrant monitoring, and developing management strategies that promote high levels of gene flow will be a key component in efforts to maintain healthy populations.
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.