A comprehensive phylogeny of the bumble bees (Bombus)

S. A. Cameron, H. M. Hines, P. H. Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Bumble bees (Bombus Latreille) occupy a wide diversity of habitats, from alpine meadows to lowland tropical forest, yet they appear to be similar in morphology throughout their range, suggesting that behavioural adaptations play a more important role in colonizing diverse habitats. Notwithstanding their structural homogeneity, bumble bees exhibit striking inter- and intraspecific variation in colour pattern, purportedly the outcome of mimetic evolution. A robust phylogeny of Bombus would provide the framework for elucidating the history of their wide biogeographical distribution and the evolution of behavioural and morphological adaptations, including colour pattern. However, morphological studies of bumble bees have discovered too few phylogenetically informative characters to reconstruct a robust phylogeny. Using DNA sequence data, we report the first nearly complete species phylogeny of bumble bees, including most of the 250 known species from the 38 currently recognized subgenera. Bayesian analysis of nuclear (opsin, EF-1α, arginine kinase, PEPCK) and mitochondrial (16S) sequences results in a highly resolved and strongly supported phylogeny from base to tips, with clear-cut support for monophyly of most of the conventional morphology-based subgenera. Most subgenera fall into two distinct clades (short-faced and long-faced) associated broadly with differences in head morphology. Within the short-faced clade is a diverse New World clade, which includes nearly one-quarter of the currently recognized subgenera, many of which are restricted to higher elevations of Central and South America. The comprehensive phylogeny provides a firm foundation for reclassification and for evaluating character evolution in the bumble bees.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)161-188
Number of pages28
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 2007


  • Classification
  • Corbiculate bees
  • Nuclear genes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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