A team of researchers has created the first world map on the distribution of more than 20,000 species of bees on the planet, a breakthrough in understanding and protecting pollinators on which our food sources and ecosystems depend.

The scientists, who published this Thursday your investigation in the magazine Current Biology, have produced the most complete global map of bee species with almost six million records public information about the appearance of types of bees around the world.

The team’s findings support the idea that there are more species of bees in the northern hemisphere than in the south, and more in arid and temperate environments than in the tropics.

“People think that bees are just honey bees, bumble bees, and maybe a few others, but there are more species of bees than birds and mammals combined “, The director of the research team, John Ascher, assistant professor of Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore, said in a statement.

“United States has, by far, the largest number of species of bees, but there are also vast areas of the African continent and the Middle East with high levels of diversity to discover, more than in tropical areas, “he adds.

Map of the distribution of bees in the world.
ORR ET AL. / CURRENT BIOLOGY

The case of bees is different from many plants and animals They follow a pattern known as the latitudinal biodiversity gradient, in which diversity increases as it approaches the tropics and decreases towards the poles.

Bees are an exception to that rule, since they concentrate their species outside the poles and become scarcer as they approach the equator.

Scientists explain the fact that there are far fewer species of bees in forests and jungles than in arid desert environments, because trees tend to provide fewer sources of food for bees than low plants and flowers.

“When it rains in the desert, there are these unpredictable massive blooms they can literally cover the entire area, “says Michael Orr, from the Institute of Zoology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Essential pollinators

Although much remains to be investigated on the diversity of bees, the team of scientists hope that their work help in conservation of bees as global pollinators.

“Many crops, especially in developing countries, depend on native bee species, not from honey bees, “adds Alice Hughes, a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and also a co-author of the research.

The authors see this research as an important first step towards a more complete understanding of global bee diversity and an important baseline for future more detailed research on these insects.