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Open Access Research article

Impacts of inbreeding on bumblebee colony fitness under field conditions

Penelope R Whitehorn1*, Matthew C Tinsley1, Mark JF Brown23, Ben Darvill1 and Dave Goulson1

Author Affiliations

1 School of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Stirling, Stirling, UK

2 Department of Zoology, School of Natural Sciences, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin 2, Ireland

3 School of Biological Sciences, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, Surrey, UK

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2009, 9:152  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-152

Published: 2 July 2009

Abstract

Background

Inbreeding and the loss of genetic diversity are known to be significant threats to small, isolated populations. Hymenoptera represent a special case regarding the impact of inbreeding. Haplodiploidy may permit purging of deleterious recessive alleles in haploid males, meaning inbreeding depression is reduced relative to diploid species. In contrast, the impact of inbreeding may be exacerbated in Hymenopteran species that have a single-locus complementary sex determination system, due to the production of sterile or inviable diploid males. We investigated the costs of brother-sister mating in the bumblebee Bombus terrestris. We compared inbred colonies that produced diploid males and inbred colonies that did not produce diploid males with outbred colonies. Mating, hibernation and colony founding took place in the laboratory. Once colonies had produced 15 offspring they were placed in the field and left to forage under natural conditions.

Results

The diploid male colonies had a significantly reduced fitness compared to regular inbred and outbred colonies; they had slower growth rates in the laboratory, survived for a shorter time period under field conditions and produced significantly fewer offspring overall. No differences in success were found between non-diploid male inbred colonies and outbred colonies.

Conclusion

Our data illustrate that inbreeding exacts a considerable cost in Bombus terrestris through the production of diploid males. We suggest that diploid males may act as indicators of the genetic health of populations, and that their detection could be used as an informative tool in hymenopteran conservation. We conclude that whilst haplodiploids may suffer less inbreeding depression than diploid species, they are still highly vulnerable to population fragmentation and reduced genetic diversity due to the extreme costs imposed by the production of diploid males.