Researchers Create First Global Map of Bee Species

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This picture reveals the bee types Amegilla andrewsi, among 20,000 types worldwide. Credit: Zestin Soh

There are over 20,000 types of bee, however precise information about how these types are spread out around the world are sporadic. However, scientists reporting in the journal Current Biology on November 19 have actually produced a map of bee variety by integrating the most total worldwide list of recognized bee types with the nearly 6 million extra public records of where specific types have actually appeared worldwide. The group’s findings support that there are more types of bees in the Northern Hemisphere than the Southern and more in dry and temperate environments than in the tropics.

“People think of bees as just honey bees, bumble bees, and maybe a few others, but there are more species of bees than of birds and mammals combined,” states senior author John Ascher, an assistant teacher of life sciences at the National University of Singapore. “The United States has by far the most species of bees, but there are also vast areas of the African continent and the Middle East which have high levels of undiscovered diversity, more than in tropical areas.”

Bee Map

This map reveals designed relative types richness of bees worldwide and portrays the bimodal latitudinal gradient. Darker locations have more types. Credit: Orr et al./Current Biology

Many plants and animals follow a pattern, referred to as a latitudinal gradient, where variety increases towards the tropics and reduces towards the poles. Bees are an exception to this guideline, having more types focused far from the poles and less near the equator, a pattern referred to as a bimodal latitudinal gradient. There are far less bee types in forests and jungles than in dry desert environments since trees tend to offer less sources of food for bees than low-lying plants and flowers.

“When it rains in the desert, there are these unpredictable mass blooms that can literally carpet the entire area,” states very first author Michael Orr (@mc_orr), a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences. “There’s a much higher turnover in the desert because of how patchy the resources are year after year. So there’s a lot of potential for new species there.”

To develop their maps, Ascher, Orr, Hughes, and coworkers compared information about the event of specific bee types with an enormous list of over 20,000 types assembled by Dr. Ascher and available online at the biodiversity portal DiscoverLife.org. Cross-referencing several datasets with complementary protection led to a much clearer image of how the lots of types of bees are dispersed in various geographical locations. This is a crucial initial step in evaluating the circulation and prospective decreases of bee populations.

“We’re extremely interested in abundance of bees, but that’s something that has to be done in relation to a baseline,” states Ascher, “We’re trying to establish that baseline. We really can’t interpret abundance until we understand species richness and geographic patterns.”

While a few of these patterns had actually been assumed by previous scientists such as Charles Michener, they were tough to show since of unreliable, insufficient, or difficult-to-access information. “Cleaning” these information was a significant difficulty for the scientists.

Bee Pollinating

This picture reveals a bee of the types Amegilla insularis pollinating a flower. Credit: Zestin Soh

“I was surprised how terrible most of the prior global data really was about bee diversity,” states Alice Hughes (@AliceCHughes), an associate teacher of preservation biology at Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences and another author on the paper. “A lot of the data were just too patchy or too concentrated on a small number of countries that have prioritized data sharing to be able to use these resources for any large-scale analysis.”

While there stays a lot to learn more about what drives bee variety, the research study group hopes their work will assist in the preservation of bees as worldwide pollinators.

“Many crops, especially in developing countries, rely on native bee species, not honey bees,” states Hughes. “There isn’t nearly enough data out there about them, and providing a sensible baseline and analyzing it in a sensible way is essential if we’re going to maintain both biodiversity and also the services these species provide in the future.”

The authors see this research study as a crucial initial step towards a more extensive understanding of worldwide bee variety and a crucial standard for future, more in-depth bee research study.

Reference: “Global Patterns and Drivers of Bee Distribution” by Michael C. Orr, Alice C. Hughes, Douglas Chesters, John Pickering, Chao-Dong Zhu and John S. Ascher, 19 November 2020, Current Biology.
DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.10.053

This work was supported by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the National Science Fund for Distinguished Young Scholars, the Research Fund for International Young Scientists, the China-Singapore Joint Grant, and the Singapore Ministry of Education.



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