Arxiu d'etiquetes: biodiversity

18 essential mobile applications for field trips

Gone are the days when we had to carry guides and guides to enjoy identification of species in the sea or field. Despite the nostalgia of those printed guides, today, thanks to mobile applications, any nature lover can carry in a pocket all kind of information.

As a lover of nature or biology, do not miss these 18 applications to identify and learn from everything around you. Do you need more than 18? Don’t miss part two.

BIODIVERSITY AND MAPPING

MAP OF LIFE

We start with a highlight: this wonderful application lets you know what wildlife is around you anywhere in the world. Setting on a map our location, the app will indicate us  which species can be found in the area where we are classified by groups (birds, amphibians, insects, trees, plants, fish…) in a database of more than 900,000 species.

In addition to the description, pictures, etc, of the species, we can mark if we have done any sightings, helping to provide data on the frequency of appearance of the species and having a record of our  own observations.

We can also find species directly from the browser or search field.

Available in google play market Available an APP store

BIOGUIDE – FIELD GUIDE WORLD

Bioguide allows us to have in our Android mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, butterflies, moths, plants and mushrooms. When you open the app, it gives you the chance to choose which data download from a total of 100,000 photos and 1,000 sounds. This allows you to use them later offline in nature.

You can search by color, region, name, diet, type of flowering … Within the tab of each species, we will find all kinds of features such as habitat, conservation status, diet, locomotion, systematics, morphology and physiology, trails, similar species… a complete app to keep in mind.


BV MOBILE

This application allows us to upload photos of our observations (animals, plants, lichens or rocks) to a database of georeferenced photographs. The species will be identified and you’ll be able to save your picture with the correct name. We will also contribute to help in the understanding of biodiversity and conservation of the environment.

Available in google play market  Available an APP store

iNATURALIST

iNaturalist is another application that will allow us to raise our observations to the database Global Biodiversity Information Facility, to contribute to a better understanding of biodiversity providing data to scientists.

It is a citizen science project where you can start your own project or join one that has already started, contact the experts who identify the species you see and expand your knowledge exchanging experiences with other naturalists.

Available in google play market  Available an APP store

PEAKFINDER EARTH

How it is called the mountain in front of you? Just point your mobile towards it and you’ll know the name of the peak anywhere in the world, since its database has 250,000 references. The application has a cost of 3.39 € and works offline.

 peakfinderearth

 Available in google play market

GEODETIC POINTS

If you are looking for a free alternative,  Geodetic Points will inform you about the name, altitude and how far it is the peak are you looking at . It must be installed with the augmented reality app Layar and only reports on Spanish peaks.

Source

Available in google play market

BOTANY AND MICOLOGY

ARBOLAPP

This is a guide to wild trees of the Iberian Peninsula and Balearic Islands.

arbol capture app

In the guided search, you can describe as in a dichotomous key how the tree is until you reach its species. Then you’ll get a description of it, photographs and distribution. There is also the open search, where from the location, leaves, fruits, flowers and other features the app will guide you to the desired tree. It also has a glossary with more than 80 words and does not require internet connection to use it.

Disponible en google play market

Disponible an APP store

If you need a field guide to trees in Europe and North America, you can try iKnow Trees 2 LITE, with a database of more than 200 species (Android only).

Pl@ntNet

The “Shazam” of plants. Upload up to 4 photos of the plant you want to identify, indicate whether if it is a flower, fruit, stem… and the application will search among more than 4,000 species registered and show you what plant it is. If it is not in the database, you can register it for the rest of the community to identify it.

 Plantnet

 Available in google play market

 Available an APP store

FUNGIPEDIA

Application for identifying mushrooms with 250 species in its free version. In addition to information on the mushroom and possible toxicity of the species, in the thescription we will find the most common mistakes included, to avoid unnecessary collection of species allowing them to continue fulfilling their role in nature. The application allows working offline if you have previously downloaded the libraries with the data.

Source

In the Pro version (6.99 €), we can save the GPS location of the mushrooms that we have found. If a species is not referenced, we can add it to the database.
Available in google play market

ZOOLOGY

BIRDS OF SPAIN

If you love ornithology dot not miss this app developed by SEO Birdlife. It is divided into two sections:

  • The bird guide itself , with sheets of the 563 species of birds which are present or have been cited in Spain. In each sheet you will find the layout, drawings, photos, videos, songs and a brief description as well as the months of sighting.

  • Ornithological Itineraries: informs us of the areas of Spain where we can make our observations, with information about the ecological importance of the area and which birds can we find. Spain2 birds

    Available in google play market

    WATER BIRDS

    SEO Birdlife also has specific app Water birds to computerize census, identify wetlands closest to our location and view photos and current census of each wetland.

    Available in google play market Available an APP store

     WARBLTWIGLE AND MERLIN BIRD ID

    These three apps offer similar functions. We can consider Warbl the “Shazam” of birds. With just recording the song of a bird, the app will recognize it and it will give us information on the bird species without being connected to the network. Warbl can identify 220 UK birds. It has a cost of 5.29 €.

     warblr

    Available in google play market

    Disponible an APP store

    Field Guide birds Twigle (for iPhone) is another app that not only allows us to identify birds by their song, as Warbl, but allows  us to upload photos of any bird that we sighted and it will recognize the species from our image. It identifies species in North America, Ireland, UK and South Africa.

    Available an APP store

    If you do not have iPhone, Merlin Bird Id in its web version also allows you to recognize a photo from hundreds of species of birds in North America. It also has an application in Android and iOS for identifying birds from a few simple questions.

    INSECT ORDERS

    If you’re a fan of insects, with this application you can identify insect orders from Australia. If you do not live in Astralia, still it is a good way to learn to distinguish the characteristics that define each order, also present in your country.

     Available google play market  Available an APP store

    iFelix – WOLF

    The field notebooks by emblematic Felix Rodriguez de la Fuente revisited. If you’re a fan of wolves, with this app (€ 2.20) you will have illustrations, 3D animations, photographs, dynamic maps, sounds, utilities (camera geolocation sightings and others) and an area to practice field drawings . Ifelix wolf

    For the moment it is only available the notebook of the wolf, but they are preparing the notebooks of the imperial eagle and the Iberian lynx .

     Available in google play market Disponible an APP store

    ANIMALS TIME: ENCYCLOPEDIA

    Although the description of this application (available only in Android) indicates that it is aimed at children, the truth is that we will find a lot of information about hundreds of animal species. Curiosities, distribution, habitat, behavior, food …

    It also has specific sections for endangered and even extinct species.

     Available in google play market Available an APP store
    This is the selection of All You Need is  Biology of mobile apps touse in the field. In future articles we will complete the list with more applications like maps, compasses and other essential utilities for any naturalist. We eill also discover other applications related to biology.

    Do you know other applications to complete this list? Add it in the comments below!

    MIREIA QUEROL ALL YOU NEED IS BIOLOGY

    REFERENCES

    • Cover photo
    • All other photographs, unless otherwise indicated, obtained from the corresponding stores .

Madagascar: a paradise in danger

The country is suffering a great social, political and ecological crisis which is threatening the survival of much of its biodiversity, unique in the world. Selective logging of Madagascar rosewood is causing a biological crisis unprecedented in the country. Lemurs, one of the most affected groups, are treading on thin ice.

INTRODUCTION

When the French botanist Jean-Henri Humbert set foot on the massif of Marojejy for the first time, in 1948, he was so astonished of what he saw that 7 years later he published Une merveille de la nature à Madagascar, a book which exalted the incredible biodiversity and pristine forests present in the region1. The fact is that Marojejy is possibly the best example of the rich and varied fauna and flora that Madagascar holds and, hence, the best indicator to take notice when the island begins to show signs of collapse. Unfortunately, both the region and the whole of Madagascar live days of uncertainty, and the fear of the disappearance of this treasure is becoming more real day after day.

Silky_Sifaka_Pink_Face_Closeup
A silky sifaka (Propithecus candidus) in Marojejy (Photo: Simponafotsy, Creative Commons).

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The fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) is the largest carnivore in Madagascar, and endemic to the island (Photo: Becker1999).

Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island, has an area of just over the Iberian Peninsula and contains a unique biological wealth. Despite its size and the relative proximity to the African continent, it has remained isolated from other continents since 80 million years ago, causing the local flora and wildlife have evolved independently from the rest. As a result, more than 90% of Madagascar’s species are considered unique in the world2. A 90% of reptiles3, 60% of birds4 and 80% of the island flora5 are endemic, as well as some unique lineages of mammals such as lemurs and fossas. However, all are at imminent risk of extinction due to the events experienced in the country in the recent years.

Deforestation-of-TRF-a-case-study-of-Madagascar_img_3
Almost 80% of the original forest has already disappeared. A 90% of Madagascar’s endemic species live on the forest (Image: EOI).

CAUSES OF THE ECOLOGICAL CRISIS IN THE COUNTRY

Deforestation has been present on the island since its colonization by humans, approximately 2000 years ago. However, in recent years, the delicate political situation in the country has led to their forests to their limits. With an unprecedented population growth, an extreme poverty (one of the highest in the world 6, 7) and a pressing political crisis, the nature of the island is helpless and besieged by multiple fronts. In addition to the traditional system of slash and burn deforestation, which allows local people to open forests to cultivate, it has appeared an unexpected player led by international companies. Selective logging of species of the genus Dalbergia (rosewood), rare in the forests and precious in the developed world due to its characteristic color and the strength of its wood, has become the main threat for the biodiversity of the island. It must be added, to the direct impact that involves the extraction of specific species of forest, resulting threats that can be even more damaging for the biodiversity, such as poaching, opening roads, habitat alteration, introduction of invasive species or intimidation of local populations by criminal organizations that manage the illegal exploitation8.

loads-rosewood-Toamasina-009
Rosewood illegal shipment in the Toamasina’s port, Madagascar (Photo: The Guardian).

Selective logging, present and endemic for decades, took a breather in 2000, thanks to its ban in National Parks. However, due to a deep political crisis occurred in 2009, which ended with a coup d’etat, the situation got out of hand, and criminal organizations took control, entering with impunity in the National Parks of the country9. Many of these National Parks are literally being swept away and looted, and they are nothing more than a mirage of what they were once. Despite the restoration of democracy in 201310 and the promises of the elected president to end the “plague” that selective logging of rosewood was causing to the country11, nothing is being done to fight against poaching.

Masoala-Logging-Camp_Toby-Smith-photo
Masoala logging camp, storing timber from Masoala National Park (Photo by Toby Smith, National Geographic).

WHICH COUNTRIES ARE BEHIND POACHING?

China is by far, the major importer of illegal timber from Madagascar. The main reasons are the growth of its middle class, which demands new furniture in line with their new standard of living, and the facilities granted by China due to its lax legislation on illegal timber12. A considerable part of this wood is used to make furniture in the style of the Ming Dynasty, which can be sold for $ 20,000. As there is no control on the illegal timber entering to the country, it is impossible to trace their origin. That’s why, in many cases, furniture and musical instruments manufactured in Europe or North America have been made with some or all with illegal timber13.

1201cmg2
French transport company (CMA CMG Delmas) loading illegal timber in Madagascar (Photo: Mongabay).

Rosewood-Vase-Shop_Erik-Patel-photo
Factory processing rosewood timber (Photo by Erik Patel, National Geographic).

BIODIVERSITY IN DANGER

Due to the opening of roads to remove rosewood timber, lemurs and other native species have become the target of poachers. At the beginning of the political crisis of 2009, a huge amount of lemurs and other wildlife were hunted to feed the thousands of loggers who often live in the forest while carrying out the logging. However, later, a luxury market which involved lemurs emerged, supplying restaurants with its meal in the larger cities and selling them as a delicacy.

Hunted_Silky_Sifakas
Silky sifakas and white head lemurs (Eulemur albifrons) hunted to be sold as food (Photo: Simponafotsy, Creative Commons).

Sin título
Silky sifakas and white head lemurs (Eulemur albifrons) hunted to be sold as food (Photo: Marojejy Website).

0820lemur
A red-ruffed lemur (Varecia rubra), critically endangered, lies dead victim of poaching (Photo: Mongabay).

Although the amount of death lemurs at the hands of poachers is unknown, there are many species that are suffering the impact, many of them in serious danger of extinction like the indri lemur -the largest lemur alive-, the Tattersall’s sifaka or the silky sifaka. The latter, has just a population estimated of 300 individuals. The situation of lemurs is so dramatic that a study of 2012 warned that 90% of the 103 species of lemurs should be on the Red List14. In addition, 23 of them should be qualified as Critically Endangered, the highest threat level.

Indri_indri_001
An indri (Indri indri). This specie is Critically Endangered (Photo: Erik Pattel).

Propithecus_tattersalli_001
A Tattersall’s sifaka (Propithecus tattersalli). This specie is Critically Endangered (Photo: Jeff Gibbs).

During this time it has also been an increase of trade of wild animals to serve as exotic pets, mainly affecting chameleons and turtles15, but has also been intensified the smuggling of lemurs16. In fact, a study of 2015 estimated that the number of lemurs captured in freedom for the exotic pet market could reach the creepy number of 28,000 in the last 3 years17.

pets-11
A ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta) in a pet cage. The smuggling to supply the exotic pet market is decimating its population (Photo: Importance of lemurs).

IS THERE ANY LONG TERM SOLUTION?

There is always a way to make things get better. Here there is some of them:

  • Avoid selective logging of rosewood should be the number one priority to reduce the collateral damage it generates. Since 2011 the Malagasy species of the genus Dalbergia belong to CITES Appendix 3, granting them a greater degree of protection and regulating their trade. However, the controls remain inefficient and wood is coming from Madagascar towards the ports of China. In 2013, CITES urged China to increase controls in ports, but nothing was done about it. As indicated in this 2015 article of The guardian18, illegal timber from Madagascar continues entering in large amounts, because Chinese law allows importing timber without requiring export permits.
  • Effective monitoring forest by independent observers could yield results. In fact, this system has already been implemented in countries such as Cambodia and Cameroon, achieving good results19.
  • DNA fingerprinting is another method that it has recently been used on confiscated ivory to determine which populations of African elephants are being hunted. DNA testing has already been applied recently to track limber in other countries20.
  • Finally, it is necessary that each and every one of us avoid purchasing exotic pets from Madagascar if there is no legal certification that tells us we are not damaging them.

With all these solutions, an increase of public awareness and a greater international responsability regarding environmental problems, it may still has a glimmer of hope for wildlife in Madagascar.

REFERENCES

  1. http://www.marojejy.com/Intro_e.htm
  2. Hobbes & Dolan (2008), p. 517
  3. Okajima, Yasuhisa; Kumazawa, Yoshinori (15 July 2009). “Mitogenomic perspectives into iguanid phylogeny and biogeography: Gondwanan vicariance for the origin of Madagascan oplurines”.Gene(Elsevier441 (1–2): 28–35. doi:1016/j.gene.2008.06.011.PMID 18598742.
  4. Conservation International (2007).“Madagascar and the Indian Ocean Islands”Biodiversity Hotspots. Conservation International. Archived from the original on 24 August 2011. Retrieved 24 August 2011.
  5. Callmander, Martin; et. al (2011). “The endemic and non-endemic vascular flora of Madagascar updated”. Plant Ecology and Evolution144 (2): 121–125. doi:5091/plecevo.2011.513. Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 February 2012. Retrieved 11 February 2012.
  6. http://www.wildmadagascar.org/overview/FAQs/why_is_Madagascar_poor.html
  7. http://allafrica.com/stories/201510070931.html
  8. http://www.marojejy.com/Breves_e.htm
  9. http://news.mongabay.com/2009/08/lessons-from-the-crisis-in-madagascar-an-interview-with-erik-patel/
  10. http://newafricanmagazine.com/madagascar-a-new-political-crisis/
  11. http://news.mongabay.com/2015/09/activist-arrested-while-illegal-loggers-chop-away-at-madagascars-forests/
  12. http://news.mongabay.com/2009/12/major-international-banks-shipping-companies-and-consumers-play-key-role-in-madagascars-logging-crisis/
  13. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100527141957.htm
  14. http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-18825901
  15. http://www.ecologiablog.com/post/4016/malasia-se-incauta-de-300-tortugas-en-peligro-de-extincion-procedentes-de-madagascar
  16. http://news.mongabay.com/2009/03/conservation-groups-condemn-open-and-organized-plundering-of-madagascars-natural-resources/
  17. http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract;jsessionid=AC9F12B7B37BD27ED8538264F7A0B46B.journals?aid=10245472&fileId=S003060531400074X
  18. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/feb/16/rosewood-madagascar-china-illegal-rainforest
  19. http://www.trocaire.org/sites/trocaire/files/resources/policy/2006-forest-monitoring.pdf
  20. http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2010/05/20/madagascar_logging_crisis/
  21. Imagen de portada: Alexis Dittberner, n0mad.mu project.

Ricard-anglès

Evolution for beginners 2: coevolution

After the success of Evolution for beginners, today we’ll continue  knowing the basics of biological evolution. Why  exist insects that seem orchids and vice versa? Why gazelles and cheetahs are almost equally fast? Why your dog understands you? In other words, what is coevolution?

WHAT IS COEVOLUTION?

We know that it is inevitable that living beings establish symbiotic relationships between them. Some depend on others to survive, and at the same time, on elements of their environtment as water, light or air. These mutual pressures between species make that evolve together, and as one evolve as a species, in turn it forces the other to evolve. Let’s see some examples:

POLLINATION

The most known process of coevolution is pollination. It was actually the first co-evolutionary study (1859) by Darwin, although he didn’t use that term. The first to use the word coevolution were Ehrlich and Raven (1964).

Insects existed long before the appearance of flowering plants, but their success was due to the discovery that nectar is a good reserve of energy. In turn, the plants found in the insects another way more effectively to carry pollen to another flower. Pollination by the wind (anemophily) requires more production of pollen and a good dose of luck to at least fertilize some flowers of the same species. Many plants have developed flowers that trap insects until they are covered with pollen and then set them free. These insects have hairs in their body to enable this process. In turn some animals have developed long appendages (beaks of hummingbirds, butterflies’ proboscis…) to access the nectar.

Polilla de Darwin (Xantophan morganii praedicta). Foto de Minden Pictures/Superstock
Darwin’s moth (Xantophan morganii praedicta). Photo by Minden Pictures/Superstock

It is the famous case of the Darwin’s moth (Xanthopan morganii praedicta) of which we have already talked about. Charles Darwin, studying orchid Christmas (Angraecum sesquipedale) saw that the nectar was 29 cm inside the flower. He sensed that there should exist an animal with a proboscis of this size. Eleven years later, Alfred Russell Wallace reported him that the Morgan’s sphinxs had proboscis over 20 cm long, and a time later they were found in the same area where Darwin had studied that species of orchid (Madagascar). In honor of both it was added “praedicta” to the scientific name.

There are also bee orchids that mimic female insects to ensure their pollination. To learn more about these orchids and the Christmas one, do not miss this post by Adriel.

Anoura fistulata, murcielago, bat
The bat Anoura fistulata and its long tongue. Photo by Nathan Muchhala

But many plants not only depend on insects, also some birds (like humming birds) and mammals (such as bats) are essential to pollination. The record for the longest mammal tongue in the world is for a bat from Ecuador (Anoura fistulata); its tongue measures 8 cm (150% of the length of its body). It is the only who pollinates one plant called Centropogon nigricans, despite the existence of other species of bats in the same habitat of the plant. This raises the question of whether evolution is well defined, and occurs between pairs of species or it is diffuse due to the interaction of multiple species.

PREDATOR-PREY RELATIONSHIPS

The cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is the fastest vertebrate on land (up to 115 km/h). Thomson’s gazelle (Eudorcas thomsonii), the second (up to 80 km/h). Cheetahs have to be fast enough to catch a gazelle (but not all, at risk of disappearing themselves) and gazelles fast enough to escape almost once and reproduce. The fastest gaelles survive, so nature selects in turn faster cheetahs, which are who eat to survive. The pressure from predators is an important factor that determines the survival of a population and what strategies should follow the population to survive. Also, the predators will find solutions to possible new ways of life of their prey to succeed.

Guepardo persiguiendo una gacela. Foto de Federico Veronesi
Cheetah hunting a Thomson’s gazelle in Kenya. Photo by Federico Veronesi

The same applies to other predator-prey relationships, parasite-host relationships, plants-herbivores, improving their speed or other survival strategies like poison, spikes…

HUMAN AND DOGS … AND BACTERIA

Our relationship with dogs since prehistoric times, it is also a case of coevolution. This allows, for example, to create bonds with just looking at them. If you want more information, we invite you to read this post where we talk about the issue of the evolution of dogs and humans in depth.

Another example is the relationship we have established with the bacteria in our digestive system, essential for our survival. Or with pathogens: they have co-evolved with our antibiotics, so using them indiscriminately has favored these species of bacteria to develop resistance to antibiotics.

THE IMPORTANCE OF COEVOLUTION

Coevolution is one of the main processes responsible for the great biodiversity of the Earth. According to Thompson, is responsible for the millions of species that exist instead of thousands.

The interactions that have been developed with coevolution are important for the conservation of species. In cases where evolution has been very close between two species, if one become extint will lead to the extinction of the other almost certainly. Humans constantly alter ecosystems and therefore biodiversity and evolution of species. Just declining one species, we are affecting many more. This is the case of the sea otter (Enhydra lutris), which feeds on sea urchins.

Nutria marina (Enhydra lutris) comiendo erizos. Foto de Vancouver Aquarium
Sea otter (Enhydra lutris) eating sea urchins. Photo by Vancouver Aquarium

Being hunted for their fur, urchins increased number, devastated entire populations of algae (consumer of CO2, one of the responsible of global warming), seals who found refuge in the algae nonexistent now were more hunted by killer whales… the sea otter is therefore a key species for the balance of this ecosystem and the planet, as it has evolved along with urchins and algae.

Coevolutive relations between flowers and animals depend on the pollination of thousands of species, including many of agricultural interest, so we must not lose sight of the seriousness of the issue of the disappearance of a large number of bees and other insects in recent years. A complex case of coevolution that directly affects us is the reproduction of fig.

TO SUMMARIZE

As we have seen, coevolution is the evolutionary change through natural selection between two or more species that interact reciprocally.

It is needed:

  • Specificity: the evolution of each feature of a species is due  to selective pressures of the feature of the other species.
  • Reciprocity: features evolve together.
  • Simultaneity: features evolve simultaneously.

REFERENCES

MIREIA QUEROL ALL YOU NEED IS BIOLOGY

The secret life of bees

If we talk about bees, the first thing that comes to mind might be the picture of a well-structured colony of insects flying around a honeycomb made of perfectly constructed wax cells full of honey.

But the truth is that not all bees known nowadays live in hierarchical communities and make honey. Actually, most species of bees develop into a solitary life-form unlike the classical and well-known honey bees (which are so appreciated in beekeeping).

Through this article, I’ll try to sum up the different life-forms of bees in order to shed light on this issue.

INTRODUCTION

Bees are a large diverse group of insects in Hymenoptera order, which also includes wasps and ants. To date, there are up to 20,000 species of bees known worldwide, although there could be more unidentified species. They can be found in most habitats with flowering plants located in every continent of the world (except for the Antarctica).

Bees pick up pollen and nectar from flowers to feed themselves and their larvae. Thanks to this, they contribute on boosting the pollination of plants. Thus, these insects have an enormous ecological interest because they contribute to maintain and even to enhance flowering plant biodiversity on their habitats.

Specimen of Apis mellifera or honey bee (Picture by Leo Oses on Flickr)

However, even though the way they feed and the sources of food they share could be similar, there exist different life-forms among bees which are interesting to focus on.

BEE LIFE-FORMS

SOLITARY BEES (ALSO KNOWN AS “WILD BEES”)

Most species of bees worldwide, contrary to the common knowledge, develop into a solitary life-form: they born and grow alone, they mate once when groups of male and female bees meet each other and, finally, they die alone too. Some solitary bees live in groups, but they never cooperate with each other.

Female of solitary life-form bees build a nest without the help of other bees. Normally, this kind of nest is composed by one or more cells, which are usually separated by partition walls made of different materials (clay, chewed vegetal material, cut leaves…). Then, they provide these cells with pollen and nectar (the perfect food for larvae) and, finally, they lay their eggs inside each cell (normally one per cell). Contrary to hives, these nests are often difficult to find and to identify with naked eyes because of its discreetness.

The place where solitary bees build their nest is highly variable: underground, inside twisted leaves, inside empty snail shells or even inside pre-established cavities made by human or left behind by other animals.

These bees don’t make hives nor honey, so these are probably the main reasons because of what they are less popular than honey bees (Apis mellifera). Although solitary bees are the major contributors on pollination due to their abundance and diversity (some of them are even exclusive pollinators of a unique plant species, which reveals a close relation between both organisms), most of the studies related with bees are focused on honey bees, because of what studies and protection of these solitary life-forms still remain in the background.

There exists a large diversity of solitary bees with different morphology:

3799308298_ff9fbb1bcc_n7869021238_a811f13aa4_n1) Specimen of Andrena sp. (Picture by kliton hysa on Flickr). 
2) Specimen of Xylocopa violacea or violet carpenter bee (Picture by Nora Caracci fotomie2009 on Flickr).
3) Specimen of Anthidium sp. (Picture by Rosa Gambóias on Flickr).

There are also parasite life-forms among solitary bees, that is, organisms that benefit at the expense of another organism, the host; as a result, the host is damaged in some way. Parasitic bees take advantage of other insects’ resources and even resources from other bees causing them some kind of damage. This is the case of Nomada sp. genus, whose species lay their eggs inside other bee nests (that is, their hosts), so when they hatch, parasite larvae will eat the host’s resources (usually pollen and nectar) leaving them without food. Scientists named this kind of parasitism as cleptoparasitism (literally, parasitism by theft) because parasitic larvae steal food resources from the host larvae.

PSEUDOSOCIAL BEES

From now on, we are going to stop talking about solitary bees and begin to introduce the pseudosocial life-forms, that is, bees that live in relatively organized and hierarchical groups which are less complex than truly social life-forms, also known as eusocial life-forms (which is the case of Apis mellifera).

Probably, the most famous example is the bumblebee (Bombus sp.). These bees live in colonies in which the queen or queens (also known as fertilized females) are the ones who survive through the winter. Thus, the rest of the colony dies due to cold. So is thanks to the queen (or queens) that the colony can arise again the next spring.

5979114946_9d491afd84_nSpecimen of Bombus terrestris or buff-tailed bumblebee(Picture by Le pot-ager "Je suis Charlie" on Flickr).

EUSOCIAL BEES

Finally, the most evolved bees known nowadays in terms of social structure complexity are eusocial bees or truly social bees. Scientist have identified only one case of eusocial bee: the honey bee or Apis mellifera.

Since the objective of this article was to refute the “all bees live in colonies, build hives and make honey” myth, I will not explain further than the fact these organisms form complex and hierarchical societies (this constitutes a strange phenomenon which has also been observed in thermites and ants) normally led by a single queen, build large hives formed of honeycombs made of wax, and make honey, a very energetic substance highly appreciated by humans.

Specimens of Apis mellifera on a honeycomb full of honey (Picture by Nicolas Vereecken on Flickr).

As we have been seeing, solitary bees play an important role in terms of pollination, because of what they must be more protected than they currently are. However, honeybees, and not solitary bees, still remain being on the spotlight of most scientists and a great part of society because of the direct resources they provide to humans.

REFERENCES

  • Notes taken during my college practices at CREAF (Centre de Recerca Ecològica i d’Aplicacions Forestals – Ecological Research and Forest Applications Centre). Environmental Biology degree, UAB (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona).
  • O’toole, C. & Raw A. (1999) Bees of the world. Ed Blandford
  • Pfiffner L., Müller A. (2014) Wild bees and pollination. Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FiBL (Switzerland).
  • Solitary Bees (Hymenoptera). Royal Entomological Society: http://www.royensoc.co.uk/insect_info/what/solitary_bees.htm
  • Stevens, A. (2010) Predation, Herbivory, and Parasitism. Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):36

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