Thursday, 08 August 2013 07:30

RSM bio-blitz might have found a new bee species in Cypress Hills

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Shelby Stecyk (at left) collects bees with a net while Marla Anderson looks on. They are participating in the Royal Saskatchewan Museum's bio-blitz across southwest Saskatchewan this summer, which is one of the largest wildlife surveys ever in the province. Shelby Stecyk (at left) collects bees with a net while Marla Anderson looks on. They are participating in the Royal Saskatchewan Museum's bio-blitz across southwest Saskatchewan this summer, which is one of the largest wildlife surveys ever in the province. Photo courtesy of Royal Saskatchewan Museum

The Royal Saskatchewan Museum (RSM) is still conducting its summer long survey of wildlife in southwest Saskatchewan, but there is already a possibility a new bee species has been collected in the Cypress Hills.


The RSM’s bio-blitz is one of the largest wildlife surveys ever in the province. With the project’s announcement on May 24 there was already an expectation of many new species records and also perhaps species new to science.
Dr. Cory Sheffield, who is the RSM’s curator of invertebrate zoology, is cautiously optimistic it is indeed a new bee species.
“We have to verify this through different means,” he said. “We really want to get out to the site again and see if we can collect more because we only had one individual, but to me this is pretty exciting to be able to describe a new species of bee from Saskatchewan.”
He is considered to be a world authority on Canadian bee species. He has already described a new species of bee from Nova Scotia and he has even rediscovered a bee species that was considered to be extinct.
“So now we’re going through the process,” he said about his latest find. “I’ll be comparing that to other specimens and probably even be doing some genetic work on it just to confirm that’s what it is.”
According to Sheffield this specimen was found in an area where people have seldom collected bees before.
“They’re very abundant on the west side of the Rockies and then you get them in eastern Canada, but if you look at the treatment of this group in the past there’s barely anything known about it from the prairies,” he said.
It belongs to the same group of small carpenter bees of the genus Ceratina that is found elsewhere in the country, but he believes it is different from the western and eastern species.
“They’re very small and probably most people wouldn’t even notice them because of their size, but under a microscope they’re actually quite beautiful animals,” he added. “They’re metallic blue, pretty nice looking.”
The aim of a bio-blitz is to learn as much as possible about the presence and distribution of species in a certain area. In the case of this project the focus of RSM scientists and teams of summer students is on finding and capturing different species of insects, reptiles and small mammals.
“Within the first outing of this bio-blitz we’ve been able to get six new bee records for the province and that was without even looking,” he said. “We’re now going through the materials coming in on a weekly basis and I’m sure we’re going to find more and more. So it’s supporting the idea that the species are here, just no one has actually done an intensive enough survey to see what’s actually here.”
Sheffield’s long-term research focus on the contribution of native bees to the pollination of crops in Saskatchewan will also benefit from this survey.
“If we know which bees occur on which habitats then we can answer the question why do they occur there,” he said. “Then when it comes down to growing a crop in this province, what can we do to the habitats around where that crop grows to enhance the native bee species that are there.”
Eight students are permanently in the field while other students are going out to focus on specific projects. Three full-time museum staff members are participating in the bio-blitz and the survey also involves the RSM’s university partners.
The surveys are targeting some of the unique areas in southwest Saskatchewan, including the Big Muddy valley, Killdeer Badlands, Great Sand Hills, Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park and several locations in the Cypress Hills.
“Those types of micro regions are bound to yield the unique species and in some cases we know we have some species of insects that are probably unique or endemic to these micro habitats and I think that’s also true of snakes,” he said. “For the money and the amount of people we had we had to focus on a region and this is probably from a scientific perspective the most interesting area of the province.”
The survey is an opportunity for researchers to learn more about bull snakes, which is Saskatchewan’s largest snake species. Surgery was carried out on a few of them to implant radio transmitters inside their bodies, which will make it possible to track them in the future.
“A part of the study will be to find where these snakes are going to go in the fall to spend the winter, which will certainly yield much more data on the biology of these as well,” he said.
In other instances the survey has already provided researchers with new information about the distribution of different snake species.
“Some of these snakes have shown up in areas they weren’t recorded before,” he said. “So we have some new distribution data for species that we know quite a bit about already … but also increasing our knowledge of the biology of why these things are occurring in these areas.”
Regular updates about the bio-blitz are provided in a blog on the RSM website. Earlier this week a blog entry referred to the most recent verified sighting of a prairie rattlesnake in southwest Saskatchewan. The blog entries about the bio-blitz project can be seen online at www.royalsaskmuseum.ca/blog/bioblitz.

Read 14568 times Last modified on Wednesday, 07 August 2013 16:21
Matthew Liebenberg

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