Conservation: The trouble with bumblebees

  • Brown M
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Abstract

Inbreeding and a consequent loss of genetic diversity threaten small, isolated populations. One mechanism by which genetically impoverished populations may become extinct is through decreased immunocompetence and higher susceptibility to parasites. Here, we investigate the relationship between immunity and inbreeding in bumblebees, using Hebridean island populations of Bombus muscorum. We sampled nine populations and recorded parasite prevalence and measured two aspects of immunity: the encapsulation response and levels of phenoloxidase (PO). We found that prevalence of the gut parasite Crithidia bombi was higher in populations with lower genetic diversity. Neither measure of immune activity was correlated with genetic diversity. However, levels of PO declined with age and were also negatively correlated with parasite abundance. Our results suggest that as insect populations lose heterozygosity, the impact of parasitism will increase, pushing threatened populations closer to extinction.

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Authors

  • Mark J.F. Brown

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