Citation Scriven JJ, Whitehorn PR, Goulson D & Tinsley MC (2016) Niche partitioning in a sympatric cryptic species complex. Ecology and Evolution, 6 (5), pp. 1328-1339. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.1965
Abstract Competition theory states that multiple species should not be able to occupy the same niche indefinitely. Morphologically, similar species are expected to be ecologically alike and exhibit little niche differentiation, which makes it difficult to explain the co-occurrence of cryptic species. Here, we investigated interspeci- fic niche differentiation within a complex of cryptic bumblebee species that co-occur extensively in the United Kingdom. We compared the interspecific variation along different niche dimensions, to determine how they partition a niche to avoid competitive exclusion. We studied the species B. cryptarum, B. lucorum, and B. magnus at a single location in the northwest of Scotland throughout the flight season. Using mitochondrial DNA for species identifica- tion, we investigated differences in phenology, response to weather variables and forage use. We also estimated niche region and niche overlap between different castes of the three species. Our results show varying levels of niche partitioning between the bumblebee species along three niche dimensions. The species had contrasting phenologies: The phenology of B. magnus was delayed relative to the other two species, while B. cryptarum had a relatively extended phenology, with workers and males more common than B. lucorum early and late in the season. We found divergent thermal specialisation: In contrast to B. cryptarum and B. magnus, B. lucorum worker activity was skewed toward warmer, sunnier conditions, leading to interspecific temporal variation. Further- more, the three species differentially exploited the available forage plants: In particular, unlike the other two species, B. magnus fed predominantly on species of heather. The results suggest that ecological divergence in different niche dimensions and spatio-temporal heterogeneity in the environment may contribute to the persistence of cryptic species in sympatry. Furthermore, our study suggests that cryptic species provide distinct and unique ecosystem services, demonstrating that morphological similarity does not necessarily equate to ecological equivalence.