Ancient Bees Collected Pollen in Two Different Ways–As Specialists & Generalists; Study of 50-Million-Year-Old Specimens of Bees & Pollen Suggests Specialist-Only Pollen Collection Was Very Rare Phenomenon

Were ancient bees specialists, devoting their pollen-collecting attentions to very specific plant partners? Or were they generalists, buzzing around to collect pollen from a variety of flowers in their midst? Researchers who have studied an ancient lineage of bees now say, in an open-access article published online on November 12, 2015 in the Cell Press journal Current Biology, that the answer to both questions is “yes.” Bees living some 50 million years ago simultaneously relied on both strategies in foraging for pollen. The new Current Biology article is titled “Specialized and Generalized Pollen-Collection Strategies in an Ancient Bee Lineage.” "Because the fossil record of bees extends to the Late Cretaceous, and an early bee-like ancestor is known from 100 million-year-old amber, it could very well be that this dual foraging behavior may be as old as bees themselves," says Conrad Labandeira, Ph.D., of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.. and a Fellow at the Paleontological Society. "If this is the case, then the controversy as to whether the earliest bees were generalist or specialist pollen collectors may be moot: the earliest bees during the mid-Cretaceous may have been simultaneously generalists and specialists!” The researchers, led by Heisenberg Fellow of the German Science Foundation Torsten Wappler, Ph.D., from the University of Bonn in Germany, identified pollen found on the bodies of eleven individuals from six bee species of the tribe Electrapini collected from two sites in Germany. The bee specimens were 44 million to 48 million years old, with pollen well preserved across their bodies. The researchers found pollen from a wide variety of nectar-producing flower types all across the bees' bodies--except, that is, on their legs.
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