It’s estimated that up to 1,000 species of native bees call the Sonoran Desert home. If the region doesn’t host the greatest native bee diversity in the world, then it is a close second only to the deserts of Israel. Both are hotspots for solitary native bees, which, unlike honeybees and bumblebees, live alone and not in colonies. Yet, they are just as important to pollination.
The University of Arizona Insect Collection is connecting bee researchers, students in an introductory level biology course at Pima Community College and conservationists at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum to increase our knowledge of native bee species in and around Tucson. In the process, the team will nail down just how many bees really do live in our region.
The team is a branch of an initiative called Tucson Bee Collaborative. The goal is to build a resource that will facilitate future research on native bees, according to project lead Wendy Moore, an associate professor of entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Arizona. Moore is also curator of the UA Insect Collection, which houses about 35,000 insect species.
“We want to expand the University of Arizona Insect Collection such that it includes representative specimens of every single bee species native to the Sonoran Desert Regions,” Moore said.
“It’s difficult to identify certain bees by appearance alone and can be very labor intensive, but the technology that students are using, called DNA barcoding, makes it much easier,” said Jennifer Katcher, an instructional faculty in biology at Pima Community College who is leading the student-driven science side of the project.