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2 new bee species are mysterious pieces in the Panama puzzle
Date:10/18/2011

ived during past drops in sea level when the islands were reconnected to the mainland.

Roubik thinks the ancestors of Melipona (Melikerria) ambigua, the new species from Colombia, gave rise both to the new Coiba bee and the honeybees cultivated by Mayans in Mexico and Central America. Even if a drop in sea level explains how the bees got from the mainland to the island, their discovery that the bees had already established in Central America around 17 million years ago spurs an ongoing debate about the age of the connection between North and South America. Traditionally, geologists think that the Panama land bridge arose by tectonic and volcanic action to connect the two continents about 3 million years ago.

"Our studies of the genetic relationships between these bees tells us that they originated in the Amazon about 22 million years ago and that they moved north into Central America before 3 million years ago," said Roubik. "This actually agrees with new evidence that geologists working in the earthworks created by the Panama Canal expansion project are finding. We think that a land bridge may have formed as early as 12 million years ago."

Not only does the age of the continental connection remain unresolved, there are more questions, such as what happened to the bees that used to be on the mainland and are no longer there now?

Panama's wealth of biodiversity may be a direct result of the complicated geological history of the area. Only by combining geological evidence, genetic evidence and observations of how organisms behave and respond to change in natural areas like Coiba National Park, can scientists begin to understand the puzzle that is Panama.


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Contact: Beth King
kingb@si.edu
202-633-4700, x28216
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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