A team of researchers has created the first world map on the distribution of the more than 20,000 species of bees on the planet, a breakthrough for the understanding and protection of some pollinators on which our food sources and our ecosystems depend.
The scientists, who published their research in the journal Current Biology this Thursday, have prepared the most comprehensive global map of bee species with almost six million public records on the appearance of types of bees around the world.
The team’s findings support the idea that there are more species of bees in the northern hemisphere than in the south, and more in arid and temperate environments than in the tropics.
“People think that bees are just honey bees, bumblebees, and maybe a few others, but there are more species of bees than birds and mammals combined “said in a statement the director of the research team, John Ascher, assistant professor of Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore.
“The United States has by far the largest number of bee species, but there are also vast areas of the African continent and the Middle East with high levels of diversity to discover, more than in tropical areas, “he adds.
The case of bees is different from that of many plants and animals that follow a pattern known as the latitudinal gradient of biodiversity, according to which diversity increases as it approaches the tropics and decreases towards the poles.
Bees are an exception to that rule, since they concentrate their species outside the poles and are scarce as they approach the equator.
Scientists explain the fact that there are far fewer species of bees in forests and jungles than in arid desert environments, because trees tend to provide fewer sources of food for bees than low plants and flowers.
“When it rains in the desert, there are these unpredictable massive blooms that can literally cover the entire area,” says Michael Orr of the Institute of Zoology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Although much research remains to be done on the diversity of bees, the team of scientists hope their work will help in conserving bees as global pollinators.
“Many crops, especially in developing countries, depend on native bee species, not honey bees,” adds Alice Hughes, member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and also co-author of the research.
The authors see this research as an important first step toward a more complete understanding of the global diversity of bees and an important baseline for future research more detailed information about these insects.