Substantial genetic divergence and lack of recent gene flow support cryptic speciation in a colour polymorphic bumble bee (Bombus bifarius) species complex

Guillaume Ghisbain, Jeffrey D. Lozier, Sarthok Rasique Rahman, Briana D. Ezray, Li Tian, Jonah M. Ulmer, Sam D. Heraghty, James P. Strange, Pierre Rasmont, Heather M. Hines

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Phenotypic polymorphism can constitute an inherent challenge for species delimitation. This issue is exemplified in bumble bees (Bombus), where species can exhibit high colour variation across their range, but otherwise exhibit little morphological variation to distinguish them from close relatives. We examine the species status of one of the most abundant North American bumble bees, Bombus bifarius Cresson, which historically comprised two major taxa, bifarius s.s. and nearcticus. These lineages are recognized primarily by red and black variation in their mid-abdominal coloration; however, a continuum from black (nearcticus) to red (bifarius s.s.) variation has led to their historic synonymization. Integrating mitochondrial and nuclear data and whole-genome sequencing, we reveal a high level of both mitochondrial and nuclear divergence delimiting two morphologically cryptic species – the red bifarius s.s. and the colour-variable (black to red) nearcticus. Population genomic analysis supports an absence of recent genomic admixture and a strong population structure between the two clades, even in sympatry. Species distribution models predict partially differentiated niches between the genetically inferred clades with annual precipitation being a leading differentiating variable. The bifarius s.s. lineage also occupies significantly higher elevations, with regions of sympatry being among the highest elevations in nearcticus. Our data also support a subspecies-level divergence between the broadly distributed nearcticus and the island population vancouverensis. In this paper, we formally recognize the two species, Bombus bifarius Cresson and Bombus vancouverensis Cresson, the latter including the subspecies B. vancouverensis vancouverensis comb.n. and B. vancouverensis nearcticus comb.n., with vancouverensis the name bearer due to year priority.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)635-652
Number of pages18
JournalSystematic Entomology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Insect Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Substantial genetic divergence and lack of recent gene flow support cryptic speciation in a colour polymorphic bumble bee (Bombus bifarius) species complex'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this