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Monday, November 18, 2013

Extinction event affected bees

The meteor that took out the non-avian dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period (at the K-T boundary) also decimated many other life forms. According to Sandra Rehan of the University of New Hampshire, Remko Leys from Flinders University of South Australia and Michael Schwarz from the University of Adelaide, those extinctions included bees.

Bees have been around since the mid-late Cretaceous. Not coincidentally, so have a group of flowering plants called eudicotsThe scientists used DNA sequence data to map the evolutionary history of 229 species in the long-tongued bee family (Xylocopinae). This family is unevenly divided into four tribes as you can see below.


This pattern of divergence is best explained by a model where 92% of bee lineages died out 65 million years ago, and the few remaining species rapidly diverged soon afterwards. 

I like to think of this as good news. If we can halt the current decimation of our modern honeybees, maybe they too can bounce back from the brink. Of course, it might take a few million years.

Sandra M. Rehan, Remko Leys, & Michael P. Schwarz (2013). First Evidence for a Massive Extinction Event Affecting Bees Close to the K-T Boundary PloS ONE DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0076683.