Determining the dietary preferences and population genetics of an endangered bumble bee, Bombus affinis, by maximizing the use of museum specimens

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Bombus affinis, the rusty patched bumble bee, was federally listed as an endangered species in 2017 and has been identified as one of the top priority species for recovery nationally. Shortly after listing the species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and other partners prioritized the research needed to prevent the extinction of B. affinis. Some of the top research needs that were identified included determining the floral resource needs of the species and understand genetic population structure between extant and extinct populations.  In 2018, NPWRC partnered with US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Agricultural Research Service to 1) quantify floral preferences of B. affinis throughout its historic range and 2) map areas within the US that support the highest richness of preferred forage plants. We are using novel genetic analyses of pollen collected from preserved museum specimens to accomplish these objectives. As of February 2020, we have performed genetic analyses on pollen from 94 B. affinis museum specimens. Our study will inform recovery efforts by developing a historical foraging profile for the rusty-patched bumble bee throughout its historical 29-state range.