Press releases 2016

08. July 2016

Protecting the wild bees: NHM Vienna conducts research into the genetic diversity of wild bees in the heart of Europe

From 1 June 2016 until 31 May 2017 a team of researchers from the 2nd Zoological Department at the Natural History Museum Vienna will be conducting research into the genetic diversity of wild bees in Austria. Financial support for the project is provided by the initiative "Mutter Erde".
In recent years there has been an alarming drop in the wild bee population as the result of land sealing, the loss of flower-rich meadows and small structures, as well as the use of herbicides and insecticides. That is why the initiative "Mutter Erde", a cooperation between the Austrian state broadcaster ORF and the country’s leading environmental protection organizations, decided in 2015 to focus on improving the living conditions for honey bees and wild bees. This new project now aims to investigate the fascinating diversity of bees in Austria using innovative techniques from the field of molecular biology. It will also look at the specialization of bees and the related threats wild bees face in Austria.
The many different relatives of the honey bee range from just a few millimeters in size to a body length of almost three centimeters. The plump and furry bumblebees are also members of the wild bee family. With their work pollenating flowers, wild bees play an important role in maintaining the biodiversity of our plant world as well as helping many crop plants to thrive. In fact, they are more than equal – if not superior – to honey bees when it comes to pollination. Among the reasons for this is that they also fly in relatively cool temperatures and low levels of sunshine, meaning that they are the most efficient pollinators of fruit trees during extended periods of bad weather.
The genetic fingerprint
The research work of the four-person team, led by Mag. Dominique Zimmermann, focuses in particular on recording and analyzing the genetic fingerprint of specialized wild bees and other bee species with limited geographical distribution. Detailed information on the genetic diversity of wild bees in Austria provides the foundation for future protection measures and is an important contribution to the Austrian Barcode of Life (ABOL), a publicly accessible database containing the genetic fingerprint of all fauna and flora elements in Austria.
Thanks to its wide range of landscape structures, Austria is currently a hotspot for biodiversity in Central Europe and is home to 690 wild bee species. However, we still know little about the biodiversity of what are known as cryptic species – species which are genetically different but of almost identical appearance.  
This research project aims to reveal this hidden diversity using DNA barcoding and to gain an insight into the genetic variation of wild bees in Austria by comparing several individual bee species. Only then will it be possible to identify potential threats to specialized or rare species. Indeed, some wild bee species are so specialized that only pollen from certain closely related flowering plants can be used to feed the larvae, which follow a strict vegetarian diet. Vice-versa, the species of flowering plants which are visited by these specialized wild bees are themselves highly dependent on the bees for pollination.
NHM Talk
Wednesday, 18 September 2016, 18:30
"Faszination Wildbienen" (in German)
Heinz Wiesbauer
Talk and short film on nesting habits and the biology of pollination.
Event hosted by the NHM Vienna and the Friends of the NHM

Hylaeus variegatus

© NHM Wien, Heinz Wiesbauer