Some of the UK’s rarest bumblebees are at risk of becoming extinct as a result of inbreeding, research suggests.
The lack of genetic diversity is making the bees more vulnerable to a number of threats, including parasitic infection, say scientists in Scotland.
They warn that some populations of bees are becoming increasingly isolated as a result of habitat loss.
The findings are being presented at the British Ecological Society’s annual meeting at the University of Leeds.
Lead researcher Penelope Whitehorn, a PhD student from Stirling University, said the study of moss carder bumblebees (Bombus muscorum) on nine Hebridean islands, off the west coast of Scotland, offered an important insight into the possible consequences of inbreeding.
“The genetic work had already been carried out on these bumblebees, so we knew that the smaller and more isolated populations were more inbred than the larger populations on the mainland,” she told BBC News.
“And as it was an island system, it could work as a proxy for what could occur on the mainland if populations do become isolated from each other as a result of habitat fragmentation.”
The study is believed to be the first of its kind to investigate inbreeding and immunity in wild bees.