Cornell University may soon be famous for the newly named Gotham bee, Lasioglossum gothami. Jason Gibbs, a post-doctoral associate, worked there in the shadow of another great taxonomist, Professor George Eickwort, after whom he named another species Lasioglossum georgickworti. And there is more. Another nine new species were determined from Jason's extensive DNA analysis and specimen investigations throughout the US and Canada. Modern techniques are no substitute for live study and detailed dissection, but Jason explained, "These bees are morphologically and genetically distinct enough that you can say with confidence that they are their own species."
A species is a group of organisms that are unable to breed successfully with other species and produce fertile offspring, but as the biology and breeding habits of these secretive bees is basically unknown, The use of extensive collection data (such as male genitalia) and the DNA analysis has proved invaluable. Of the 20,000 species of bee, the "sweat bees" like Lasioglossum are like small honeybees (there are only nine spp. of honeybee, but 2000 sweaties), but they are quite numerous worldwide. Parallel evolution is common among such successful groups as the social insects and many of the sweat bees are solitary, social or - that frequent niche among ants, wasps and bees ) "cuckoo" species (parasites).
Of the eleven in Jason's team, four are cuckoo bees and lay their eggs in other species' nests, without the tools on their legs for pollen collection or nest building. That evolutionary adaptation is widely viewed as a total dead-end for the species. Jason gave one the extremely ugly name, Lasioglossum izawsum , which would seem to help it in that direction. The majority of hard working bees, of course, nest in the ground or in logs and this group are often recognisable, being metallic in colour. Here's one in the Big Apple:
Newly identified sweat bee species, L. Gotham, collected in New York City, emerges from a nest entrance; © Louise Lynch
Researcher Jason Gibbs relays the significance and the relevance of his studies to others by quipping, "This kind of study forms the basis of all additional studies of the biology of bees. If you want to know what is pollinating crops, you have to know what species of bees there are. This study will be used by pollination, conservation and socio-biologists." Evolutionary entomologists I am sure will be equally enamoured by Jason's sterling work along with several others.