Two large-scale scientific efforts have rendered in-depth DNA and historic/geographic/behavioral mapping of elephants and bees. The results of both endeavors will help conservation and protection efforts to save endangered elephants and bees.
A large-scale study of African elephant genetics in Tanzania reveals the history of elephant populations, how they interact, and what areas may be critical to conserve in order to preserve genetic diversity for species conservation. The study is the first to explore gene flow — a process vital to maintain necessary genetic diversity for species survival — between protected areas in Africa.
“Elephants are a hallmark of the Savannah, but poaching and habitat loss and fragmentation have led to major population declines across Africa. Human activities accelerate the loss of elephant habitat, as well as the land between protected areas. Maintaining connectivity between protected areas may be especially important for this far-ranging species, particularly with regard to gene flow, which can improve genetic diversity and help buffer small populations against disease and other threats.”
-Dr. George Lohay, researcher and postdoctoral scholar in biology at Penn State
There are over 20,000 species of bee, but accurate data about how these species are spread across the globe are sparse. However, researchers have created a map of bee diversity by combining the most complete global checklist of known bee species with the almost 6 million additional public records of where individual species have appeared around the world. The team’s findings support that there are more species of bees in the Northern Hemisphere than the Southern and more in arid and temperate environments than in the tropics. (There are far fewer bee species in forests and jungles than in arid desert environments because trees tend to provide fewer sources of food for bees than low-lying plants and flowers.)
“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. 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.”
-Dr. John Ascher, an assistant professor of biological sciences, National University of Singapore
To create their maps researchers compared data about the occurrence of individual bee species with a massive checklist of over 20,000 species.* Cross-referencing multiple datasets with complementary coverage resulted in a much clearer picture of how the many species of bees are distributed in different geographic areas. This is an important first step in assessing the distribution and potential declines 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. We’re trying to establish that baseline. We really can’t interpret abundance until we understand species richness and geographic patterns.”
While there remains a lot to learn about what drives bee diversity, the research team hopes their work will help in the conservation of bees as global pollinators.
“Many crops, especially in developing countries, rely on native bee species, not honey bees. 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 view this research as an important first step towards a more comprehensive understanding of global bee diversity and an important baseline for future, more detailed bee research.
*Compiled by Dr. Ascher and accessible online at the biodiversity portal DiscoverLife.org
Journal Reference (1) : George G. Lohay, Thomas Casey Weathers, Anna B. Estes, Barbara C. McGrath, Douglas R. Cavener. Genetic connectivity and population structure of African savanna elephants ( Loxodonta africana ) in Tanzania. Ecology and Evolution, 2020; 10 (20): 11069 DOI: 10.1002/ece3.6728
Journal Reference (2): Orr et al. Global patterns and drivers of bee distribution. Current Biology, 2020 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.10.053
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