WEATHERFORD — A Southwestern Oklahoma State University professor has found a previously undiscovered species of bee living in Oklahoma.
Victor Gonzalez, a faculty member in the biology department, discovered the bee while working on a project with a scientist from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Bee Biology and Systematics Laboratory in Logan, Utah.
The bee is one of 20 previously unknown bee species documented in an article published this summer in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. The bee belongs to a group known as wool carder bees.
The bee is a solitary creature, Gonzalez said.
Although most people think of bees as living in hives and producing honey, most of the bee species in the world don't live in colonies, he said.
Although discovering a previously unknown species is exciting, Gonzalez said it isn't unusual. Where previous generations of biologists had hand lenses or equipment with limited magnification power, today's scientists have powerful microscopes, photographic imaging and genetic tools at their disposal. All those tools make it easier to identify an unknown species of bee, he said.
Oklahoma has about 200 known species of bees, he said, and large swathes of the state haven't been surveyed. There are probably other species in those areas that scientists don't know about, he said.
Those bees play an important role in pollinating wild and cultivated plants, he said. About two-thirds of the food available today comes either directly or indirectly from plants pollinated by bees, he said.
Recent declines in bee populations make identifying species more important than ever, Gonzalez said. If scientists can recognize the species that exist, they'll be able to tell which ones are being affected by changes in their environments.
“If we don't know what is out there, we cannot quantify any impact,” he said.
Continent home to many species
Victor Gonzalez, a faculty member in the Southwestern Oklahoma State University biology department, and a scientist from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Bee Biology and Systematics Laboratory in Logan, Utah, discovered the bee as part of a project that looks at native bees in North America. The continent is home to about 4,000 species of bees, Gonzalez said, and up to 40 percent of them are likely to be undiscovered species.