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Molecular ecology of neotropical native bees

Grant number: 18/14110-6
Support type:Research Grants - Visiting Researcher Grant - International
Duration: October 08, 2018 - October 13, 2018
Field of knowledge:Biological Sciences - Genetics - Animal Genetics
Principal Investigator:Maria Cristina Arias
Grantee:Maria Cristina Arias
Visiting researcher: Margarita Maria López-Uribe
Visiting researcher institution: North Carolina State University (NC State), United States
Home Institution: Instituto de Biociências (IB). Universidade de São Paulo (USP). São Paulo , SP, Brazil

Abstract

Ecology traditionally studies how organisms interact with each other and with their physical environment. These interactions can be studied through field observations or controlled experiments, which generate data about the morphology, physiology, biochemistry or behavior of organisms. With the development of molecular biology and the emergence of molecular markers, ecological problems could be studied through a new approach. Now, it is possible to measure genetic diversity, inbreeding and movement of populations and species, for example. This area of study that aims to study ecological problems with molecular biology tools has been called "molecular ecology". More recently, genomic techniques have been incorporated into molecular ecology for an understanding of adaptive gene functions within an ecological context. Bees are an excellent group for a genomic approach of the evolution of social behavior, since they range from solitary to eusocial species. The division of intranational labor, in particular the reproductive one (queen and worker caste), seems to have been a deterministic premise in the evolution of socialization, although there is still no consensus. As genomic approaches are increasingly accessible and allow generating data for non-model organisms, species representative of different levels of social organization can be more easily studied, and data used in comparative analyzes. This is one of the objectives of the current FAPESP laboratory project (Process 2016/24669-5). Former laboratory projects also focused on the molecular ecology of bees, more specifically on behavioral genetics, population genetics and phylogeography (e.g. FAPESP Projects Process 2013/12530-4 and 2010/50597-5). Based on our experience, we are about to start a more ambitious project of continental phylogeography of two species of bees. The native Neotropical bees Tetragonisca angustula and Xylocopa frontalis are widely distributed in the Neotropical region, ranging from Mexico to Argentina. They have contrasting patterns of dispersion and are good models for understanding how geological and paleoclimatic continental events influenced intraspecific evolutionary patterns. The decline of bees is one of the biggest ecological concerns today. This is because of the ecosystem services provided by bees, such as the pollination of native plants and crops, which are essential for the human species and the environment. Therefore, the eventual decline of these species could be disastrous both for the maintenance of global plant diversity and for agricultural production. One of the proposals to mitigate this decline involves the need for more research, in order to increase our knowledge about these insects. (AU)