Scientists from Washington State University have made a significant discovery about the genealogy of bees, dating back as far as 120 million years ago during the time of the former supercontinent Gondwana. This finding has led them to propose that bees likely diverged from the supercontinent much earlier than previously believed.
The study, conducted by a team led by Washington State University researchers Silas Bossert and Brazilian associate professor Eduardo Almeida from the University of Sao Paulo, has unveiled that the genealogy of bees is much older than previously estimated.
By analyzing genes from over 200 bee species from all seven bee groups, the researchers traced the ancestry of bees back to Gondwana, which included present-day Africa and South America. Comparing 185 distinct bee fossils and extinct species with genetic attributes, they constructed evolutionary histories and genealogical models for the historic dispersal of bees.
The evidence suggests that bees evolved in arid regions of western Gondwana during the early Cretaceous period. It is now statistically supported that bees were first domesticated in Gondwana, and they have strong associations with the southern hemisphere.
As the continents shifted, bees expanded northwards, diversifying in tandem with blooming plants called angiosperms. Eventually, they settled in Australia and India. By the beginning of the Tertiary period, approximately 65 million years ago, all major bee groups had emerged.
The study also shed light on the coevolution between bees and blooming plants. The diversity of flora in tropical regions is believed to be a result of their long-standing interaction with bees, with the rose family alone hosting 25% of all blooming plants.
The findings of this research provide a crucial foundation for understanding the coevolution of pollinators and blooming plants. Furthermore, they offer insights into how bees colonized new regions and filled ecological niches in the modern era. This knowledge will aid in conserving bee populations and preserving their habitats.
The comprehensive research conducted by Bossert’s team has been published in the reputable journal Current Biology, marking a significant advancement in the understanding of bee evolution and its ecological implications. The team plans to continue their genetic research on additional bee species, contributing further to the understanding of pollinators and their essential role in ecosystems.
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