Thursday, January 15, 2015

Barcoding bees

Andrena bicolor
I have posted several times about the advantages DNA Barcoding has for bee research. The examples range from the conservation of honey bees, over pollen analysis to determining honey ingredients. Much of the global food crop production depends on pollination by insects and bees play a particularly important role in this ecosystem function. The more it concerns me that when people think of bees they only think of honey bees although there are thousands of bee species living on our planet. 

I had a quick look at BOLD and found out that about 6700 species of the Apoidea have been barcoded already. This is very impressive and shows that researchers have recognized the importance of a reliable identification system for these animals.

A new study from Germany presents an important national accomplishment as they are now very close to completion of an inventory of all bee species:

This study presents DNA barcode records for 4118 specimens representing 561 species of bees belonging to the six families of Apoidea (Andrenidae, Apidae, Colletidae, Halictidae, Megachilidae and Melittidae) found in Central Europe. These records provide fully compliant barcode sequences for 503 of the 571 bee species in the German fauna and partial sequences for 43 more.

This is a very impressive accomplishment especially given that many of the collected species are solitary bees that are rather elusive. It takes a lot of effort to assemble a collection such as the one at the Zoologische Staatssammlung in Munich and it needs to be emphasized that studies like this one are the result of hard work of both professional and amateur entomologists. Actually, in Europe, insect taxonomy was traditionally led by amateurs who have described most known species. 

I particularly like the last paragraph of the paper:

As opposed to a threat, we see DNA barcoding as a great opportunity for both amateur and professional entomologists to contribute to the progress of science by adding records to the Web-accessible BOLD, arguably the most important tool that is globally available for taxonomic research. Based on our experience, insect taxonomy has been held in rather low esteem for decades, a major reason for systematics losing academic participation and resources. External perceptions of taxonomy and its capacity to deliver new scientific insights will be advanced through the large-scale adoption of new technologies, particularly genetic approaches, provoking the funding and academic interest which will reinvigorate taxonomy as a major field in entomology.

1 comment:

  1. Well done to the team for this fantastic achievement. Many thanks also to Dirk for these blog posts. A really interesting and valuable resource on DNA barcoding.