By Sheila Dumesh, entomology research assistant at York University.
My interest in bees was ignited in 2007, when I took a biodiversity course in my last year as an undergraduate student at York University in Toronto. The course instructor was the well-known melittologist, Laurence Packer, and, although I had not met him before, I had heard many good things. Laurence’s affection for bees was inspiring, not only to me, but to others in the past and many more to come. He was so fascinated by these cute and fuzzy insects (at the time, I did not see myself describing them as such). Even though he had been studying bees for decades, the look of excitement on his face never faded when collected and examined them. Back then, my knowledge of bees was very limited. I was unaware of their diversity, importance, and great beauty!
I began with an Honours thesis under Laurence’s supervision in the “bee lab” at York University. I was keen on taxonomy and began a systematic study on a Central American bee genus, Mexalictus. For my Master’s thesis, I chose to continue that work and complete a revision of Mexalictus, which included descriptions for 20 new species, an illustrated key, and a phylogenetic analysis. I conducted my field work in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Mexico, where I sampled in high elevation cloud forests (the known habitat of Mexalictus). As these species are quite rare, I did not always have the pleasure of finding them; although this was somewhat upsetting, I was amazed by the bee (and general insect) diversity in that part of the world. I was aware of it, but being out in the field in those countries was a truly amazing experience. Just the change in habitat and species make-up along a small sector of the elevation gradient was incredible to witness!
Throughout my time as a Master’s student, I studied other groups of bees and collaborated with others in our lab. One such project is the revision of the Canadian species in the genus Dufourea (Apoidea: Halictidae), which I undertook with Cory Sheffield and recently published in the Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification. There are eight species in Canada, but some were described from only one sex, the descriptions were written by several authors in different publications, and a key to identify these species was previously unavailable! These bees are also floral specialists, meaning they visit specific flowers (usually a genus or family). Cory and I set out to revise this group and provide all of this information in one paper. The identification key is user-friendly and illustrates the characters mentioned in the key couplets to aid the user. We also constructed species pages, which include full descriptions, important features, distribution maps, and images of each species.
We are striving towards creating many more illustrated (and web-based) keys to facilitate bee identification. I am very excited to have this work freely available and hope that it is found useful by others in the community!
Dumesh, S. & Sheffield, C.S. (2012). Bees of the Genus Dufourea Lepeletier (Hymenoptera: Halictidae: Rophitinae) of Canada, Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification, 20 DOI: 10.3752/cjai.2012.20