Guwahati: A new bee species have been discovered in Tawang, a region that shares a border with China.

Researchers from the Southern Regional Centre of Zoological Survey of India were behind the discovery, which has now been published in the Journal of Insect Biodiversity and Systematics.

The study, conducted by Dibyajyoti Ghosh, Thayyullathil Jobiraj, P. Girish Kumar, and KA Subramanian, adds the bee species, named Ceratina tawangensis, to the list of unique species found in the area.

The habitat in Tawang from where the bee was found.

The newly discovered bee species, named Ceratina tawangensis, has been named after the Tawang region where it was found. This unique species can be found at elevations ranging from 1,600 to 2,300 meters in the Tawang district. It is of a shining black colour and measures approximately 10mm, making it relatively larger than most other Ceratina bees.

The newly described species can be differentiated from its relatives by its yellow colour patterns, as well as differences in its punctuations and micro-sculptural features.

Dibyajyoti Ghosh of the Southern Regional Centre of Zoological Survey of India told EastMojo, “Our study in Tawang district has so far uncovered approximately 50 species or morphs of bees. Some very interesting and rare bees have been found that have yet to be described.”

According to Ghosh, Tawang is a unique and diverse region in terms of geography and habitats, which initially sparked the interest of the researchers. “The eastern Himalayas, considered a hotspot or centre of endemism, has the potential for the evolution of new species, attracting researchers from around the world. The discovery of the Ceratina tawangensis helps deepen our understanding of the local community,” Ghosh said.

During the study, only female specimens of the species were captured and it was during the taxonomic identification process that the uniqueness of the species was first noticed. The specimens were then compared to other similar species groups found in India, and the novelty of the Ceratina tawangensis was established.

The genus Ceratina Latreille comprises approximately 370 species worldwide. This genus is known for its small, slender, shining and almost hairless bodies, ranging in size from 2.2 to 12.5mm and ranging in colour from metallic green to black, with conspicuous yellow markings on the faces. These bees are commonly referred to as small carpenter bees, in contrast to their sister group, the large carpenter bees or Xylocopa spp, which are colloquially known as Bhamra.

The Ceratina tawangensis is found to be a generalist forager, primarily associated with cultivated land and adjacent semi-natural habitats. The bee was discovered mostly in non-crop plants such as wild strawberries, Java Isodon, wild radish, coriander, buckwheat, gallant soldier, asters, tick clover, and coriander, which is widely cultivated in kitchen gardens throughout the region.

Generalist bees like the Ceratina tawangensis make up approximately 75% of all bee diversity and play a critical role in regulating ecosystem services, such as pollination in high-altitude regions where resources are scarce. These findings open up new avenues for utilizing wild varieties of bees for managed pollination, supplementing honeybee keeping. Wild bees have been shown to be more efficient pollinators for entomophilous plants compared to honeybees.

The habitat in Tawang from where the bee was found.

For common people, bees often refer to as Honey bees (Apis bees) as they are commercially mainstreamed because of their by-products like honey, royal jelly and pollen — and other products such as beeswax, propolis and honey bee venom. 

Experts say the whole commercial aspect overshadows one of the most important aspects of sustaining life on Earth, which is pollination services provided free of cost by different bees.

 The discovery of a new bee species in Tawang highlights the importance of wild bee pollinators in maintaining biodiversity and providing crucial ecosystem services.

With nearly 22,000 species of bees known to science and counting, wild bees occupy a large portion of bee diversity, with many important crops relying on their pollination services.

Several important cash crops like Brazil nuts, almonds, cashew, coffee beans, cocoa beans, avocados, and fruits and vegs like apples, apricot, blueberry, mango, strawberry, and tomato are mostly or completely dependent on bee pollinators for pollination services.

However, the populations of these critical pollinators are declining at an alarming rate due to habitat loss and degradation, leading to the loss of food and nesting resources.

To address this trend, conservation efforts are focused on preserving the habitats of wild bee pollinators and incorporating their diverse populations into sustainable practices.

“Documenting the regional wild bee pollinator diversity and involving them in sustainable practices is a practical way of maintaining local biodiversity,” says KA Subramanian, a researcher on the project.

This new discovery in Tawang, with its unique geographical and habitat diversity, serves as a reminder of the ongoing importance of studying and conserving these valuable species.

India is home to an estimated 750 bee species, and with its diverse climate and geography, it is likely that many more species remain to be discovered. Despite this rich biodiversity, knowledge about wild bees in India is limited, and documentation of bee diversity in the northeast region is particularly scarce.

To address this, further study of native bee pollinator diversity in the region is necessary.

As Dibyajyoti Ghosh explains, “It is imperative to study further the native bee pollinator diversity from the region as it holds many more yet to be discovered.”

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