Species diversity, pollination application and strategy for conservation of the bumblebees of China.
Bumblebees are important pollinators of many wild flowers and crops and play a significant role in maintaining natural and agricultural ecosystems. The varied geomorphology and vegetation of China makes it the greatest hotspot of bumblebee diversity in the world. However, the bumblebee fauna of China has been insufficiently studied. Here, we report the results of systematic field surveys and the application of bumblebees to pollination over the last two decades in China. The results showed the following: (1) More than 50,000 bumblebee specimens were collected during 2002-2017. The taxonomic status of some difficult taxa was revealed by integrating morphology with DNA barcoding. A total of 125 bumblebee species have been identified, which represents 50% of the total number of bumblebee species worldwide. (2) We report the first compiled list of the bumblebee species of China, which includes 22 species that are endemic to China. The transitional zone from the eastern Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau to the Loess Plateau, the Qinling Mountains, and the Sichuan Basin is the centre of bumblebee diversity worldwide. (3) Six native bumblebee species, including Bombus lucorum, B. patagiatus, B. ignitus, B. pyrosoma, B. picipes and B. lantschouensis from Northern China, were selected for rearing between 1998-2017. Furthermore, B. patagiatus and B. lantschouensis, which had traits that favoured domestication, are now used as pollinators of crops in greenhouses within China. We propose a multi-pronged strategy to conserve the native bumblebees of China, which includes protecting their habitats and food resources and controlling invasive alien species and pesticide use. We hope that this study will help inform the conservation and the sustainable use of wild pollinators across the globe, but especially bumblebees of China.