TORONTO, August 31, 2010 − A York University doctoral student who discovered a new species of bee on his way to the lab one morning has completed a study that examines 84 species of sweat bees in Canada. Nineteen of these species including the one Jason Gibbs found in downtown Toronto − are new to science because they have never been identified or described before.
Gibbs' expansive study will help scientists track bee diversity, understand pollination biology and study the evolution of social behaviour in insects. It is also much anticipated by bee taxonomists who, like Gibbs, painstakingly examine the anatomy (morphology) of bees to distinguish one type of bee from another.
Bees are responsible for pollinating many wildflowers and a large proportion of agricultural crops. As much as one of every three bites of food that humans eat, including some meat products, depends on the pollination services of bees. Sweat bees are common visitors to a wide range of plants, including fruit and vegetable flowers in Toronto gardens.
Sweat bees − named for their attraction to perspiration − can be smaller than 4 mm in length, often have metallic markings, and make up one-third to one-half of bees collected in biodiversity surveys in North America. Complete species descriptions of 84 metallic sweat bees in Canada are included in Gibbs' monumental study, "Revision of the metallic species of Lasioglossum (Dialictus) in Canada." It was published today by the peer-reviewed journal Zootaxa as a single issue.
Despite their numbers and their importance as pollinators, sweat bees remain among the most challenging bees to identify to species, perhaps because they evolved so rapidly when they first appeared about 20 million years ago. Gibbs' research significantly improves upon all other available tools for the identification of these bees.
"These bees are morphologically monotonous. They are a
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