Historical biogeography, divergence times, and diversification patterns of bumble bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae: Bombus)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

224 Scopus citations


Bumble bees (Bombus) are a cold-adapted, largely alpine group that can elucidate patterns of Holarctic historical biogeography, particularly in comparison to the alpine plants with which they likely coevolved. A recently published molecular phylogeny of bumble bees provides uniquely comprehensive species sampling for exploring historical patterns of distribution and diversification. Using this phylogeny and detailed data on extant distributions, I reconstruct the historical distribution of bumble bees in a temporal framework, estimating divergence times using fossil data and molecular rates derived from the literature. The nearly comprehensive phylogeny allows assessment of the tempo of diversification within the bumble bees using lineage-through-time plots and diversification statistics, which have been performed with special consideration to confidence intervals. These analyses reveal movements of Bombus concordant with geographic and climatic events of the late Cenozoic. The initial diversification of extant bumble bee lineages was estimated at around 25 to 40 Ma, near the Eocene-Oligocene boundary 34 Ma, a period of dramatic global cooling. Dispersal-vicariance analysis (DIVA) predicted an Old World Bombus ancestor, with early diversification events largely restricted to the eastern Old World. The numerous intercontinental dispersal events occurred mostly in the direction of OldWorld to NewWorld and North America to South America. Early movements from the Palearctic into the Nearctic most likely took place after 20 Ma and may have coincided with a period of Miocene cooling that gave rise to taiga habitat across Beringia. Subsequent dispersal between these regions is estimated to have occurred among boreal and tundra-adapted species mostly in the last 5 million years. Radiations are estimated in both Nearctic and Neotropical regions at ~6 to 8 Ma and after 3.5 Ma, concordant with the opening of land corridors between the continents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)58-75
Number of pages18
JournalSystematic Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


Dive into the research topics of 'Historical biogeography, divergence times, and diversification patterns of bumble bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae: Bombus)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this