Bumblebee Specialist Group

The Natural History Museum has led the setting up of an IUCN Bumblebee Specialist Group, to assess bumblebee species worldwide for their Red List threat status. 

DNA Barcodes

Research into DNA barcodes is showing that Red List conservation priorities need to be based on sound taxonomy. 

For example until recently, Bombus cullumanus has been regarded as one of the rarest among European bumblebees

The last British individual was seen in ‘c. 1941’, and the last French individual was seen in 2004.

Analysis of barcodes shows that although this west European dark colour form may be extinct, it is just part of a species that is much more broadly distributed and sometimes quite common in parts of Russia and Central Asia.

In a global context, this work identifies its sister species, the far eastern B. unicus, as a much higher priority for conservation action due to its:

  • greater unique genetic divergence
  • restricted geographic range
  • low abundance in habitats that are likely to be under increasing human pressure
Creating identification tools

Our work on revisions and identification tools has moved into new and especially rich areas, with recent publications on the faunas of:

  • Nepal
  • Central Asia
  • Gansu (China)

Work on short guides to the species of eastern North America and of western North America has been completed and work has started on a much more detailed guide to the larger fauna of all of America north of Mexico. Another guide to the species of North China is in progress. 

These projects, based primarily on morphology, continue against a background of DNA barcoding studies, which help in assessing the species, particularly checking for cryptic species.