Canadian student finds 19 new bee species

Aug. 31, 2010 at 6:16 PM
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TORONTO, Aug. 31 (UPI) -- A Canadian doctoral student has identified 19 new species of bees, including one in downtown Toronto close to his research lab, researchers say.

Jason Gibbs of York University completed a study of 84 species of sweat bees -- so called for their attraction to human perspiration -- and found 19 varieties never identified or described before, a university release said Tuesday.

Gibbs' extensive study will help scientists track bee diversity, understand pollination biology and study the evolution of social behavior in insects, scientists say.

Bees are responsible for pollinating a large proportion of agricultural crops. Researchers estimate 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, common visitors to a wide range of plants including fruits and vegetables, make up a third to a half of bees collected in biodiversity surveys in North America.

Gibbs' task was a difficult one as sweat bees are morphologically monotonous -- that is, their physical characteristics are very similar among species.

"No one has been able to identify these bees until now even though they make up so many of the bees we collect," Gibbs says. "It's important to identify these species, because if we don't know what bees we have, we can't know what bees we're losing."

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