Bees are crucial pollinators for crops that humans consume, but their populations are on the decline. Now, a new, global bee map is tracking more than 20,000 bee species on Earth to help aid in their conservation.
Many scientists worked together on the map, including John Ascher of the National University of Singapore, who compiled a checklist of all known bee species. He and other researchers cross-referenced several datasets about bee life on every continent except Antarctica, which doesn’t support bee life.
The study concluded that bees are more prevalent in dry, temperate areas away from the equator. More bees make their home in the Northern Hemisphere than the Southern Hemisphere. The U.S., Africa and Middle East are popular with bees. These creatures prefer deserts to forests, since trees don’t offer as many food sources.
“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,” Ascher said. “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.”
Honeybees have been well studied, but scientists have little information on more than 96% of bee species. While bee colonies are famous, many people might be surprised that some types of bees are solitary insects.
“Many crops, especially in developing countries, rely on native bee species, not honey bees,” said study researcher Alice Hughes of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Yunnan. “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 study’s authors hope that combining all of this bee data will be an important step toward conservation.
Image via Rebekka D