Collaborative Research: How many routes to the same phenotype? Genetic changes underlying parallel acquisition of mimetic color patterns across bumble bees

Project: Research project

Project Details


Hundreds of bumble bee species are important pollinators worldwide. They also have interesting behaviors and morphologies that tell us about evolution. Color pattern diversity is the most notable of these traits. These species have hundreds of different patterns of yellow, orange, black, and white hairs across their bodies. This diversity is related to mimicry, whereby species converge upon the same pattern to avoid predation. However, that dominant color pattern differs by region. This repeated evolution of color patterns can be used to understand how genes are targeted during evolution. In the Western United States, several bumble bee species undergo parallel changes across the landscape. This research will examine the genes that drive coloration shifts in each of these western species and provide a better understanding of how repeatable evolution is. Broader impacts of the research include training undergraduate students to develop functional genetics tools. The researchers will also share their gained knowledge outside the scientific community through several events for the public and develop color pattern field guides for bumble bees.

The study will compare genetic changes across color shifts to tell if the same genes are repeatedly targeted or if there are many ways to get to the same phenotype. The proposed research uses a combination of genome-wide trait association analysis and cross-developmental transcriptome comparisons to determine gene networks for color variation across five sets of mimetic species in the Western United States. This includes identifying genetic targets of selection and specific changes in final pigmentation genes. the work will determine which regions within genes are most likely to be targeted. It will determine if there are major developmental genes that get used in new functions or if downstream genes are more often targeted. It will also tell us how genetic variants inherited and transferred within and across species influence total diversity. This study will, in the process, provide genome sequences for several North American bumble bees, clarifying species boundaries hidden by mimicry. It will also improve understanding of the role of developmental and pigmentation genes in animals. Genomes will be sequenced for species across a clade of mimics to reveal how color-determining genes evolve. These objectives will provide a case study of how genetic variants and resulting changes in gene expression evolve across species under selection.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date1/1/2212/31/24


  • National Science Foundation: $850,485.00


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.