Evolution of phenotypic biodiversity in bumblebees (Bombus), a globe-spanning genus of major pollination providers

Theme: Biodiversity & Ecology

Primary Supervisor:

Mark Brown

School of Biological Sciences, RHUL

Mark Brown (RHUL)

Secondary Supervisor:

Paul Williams

Life Sciences Department, NHM

Paul Williams (NHM)

Project Description:

Understanding the origin of biodiversity is a key aim of evolutionary biology. Most species are insects, but we know remarkably little about the evolution of this diversity at the species level. Bumblebees, a globally distributed genus of ~250 species, provide a perfect and important system in which to investigate this question. Bumblebees provide the key ecosystem service of pollination, and understanding their morphological diversity therefore has both pure and applied value.

This project is made possible by the recently published molecular phylogeny of the genus, and the unique and globally important collection at the Natural History Museum. We will investigate the evolution of key morphological traits that have been under strong natural and sexual selection. Results will provide fundamental insight into phenotypic evolution in general, as well as specific insights into the ecology and evolution of a globally declining but ecologically essential aspect of biodiversity.

Policy Impact of Research:

This project will provide a detailed understanding of the evolution of functional morphology in an ecologically key group.

Results will inform conservation management plans, particularly for species where ecology is currently poorly known but can be inferred from the proposed research.

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