Utah is home to 660 bee species, according to a new study. One out of every four bee species endemic to the United States can be found in the aptly named Beehive State.
Thanks to a four-year survey conducted by entomologists at Utah State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, scientists have an improved understanding of Utah’s remarkable apian diversity.
Utah hosts a variety of habitat and a diversity of flowers attractive to a wide range of bee species.
“Bees are more diverse in desert areas and Utah has a lot of unique desert areas, with lots of elevational gradients between the deserts and adjacent mountains,” Utah State entomologist Joseph Wilson told UPI. “Utah is also home to a diverse flora, we have lots of different kinds of flowering plants, which can be linked to the high bee diversity.”
During the survey, Wilson and his colleagues identified 49 new bee species.
Nearly half of the bee species documented in the new paper — published this week in the journal PeerJ — can be found in Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which was established in 1996.
“There was undoubtedly a rich bee community in the region before it was a monument,” Wilson said. “But, part of what the monument did is establish rules to keep the land as pristine as possible — no paved roads, or development for example. This likely helped preserve this rich bee community against potential changes that could have negative impacts.”
Earlier this year, President Trump ordered for the monument’s size to be reduced, but a variety of environmental and recreation groups have attempted to stop the reduction plans in court.
“We have another paper coming out in a month or so discussing how this reduction in monument size might affect the bees living there,” Wilson said.
According to Wilson, more research is needed to determine which species are most vulnerable to environmental changes, as well as how changes in the region’s bee population might effect larger ecosystems.
“There are lots of potential next steps for studying the bees in the GSENM, the difficulty is that large studies like this take funding and there is not a lot of funding available for natural history and biodiversity studies like this,” Wilson said.
With new studies, new species and new surprises are likely to follow.
“New species are discovered all the time here,” Wilson said. “There is still a lot we do not know about North America’s bees.”