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'Monumental task:' Hundreds of new species added to Oregon Bee Atlas

Findings by OSU researchers and volunteers led to 224 new bee species added to Oregon's list, for a total of 650 unique species found across the state.

OREGON, USA — Oregon researchers say hundreds of new bee species were added to the Oregon Bee Atlas this year.

The project is part of a years-long effort to document native species across the state and assess environmental interactions and impacts they have.

Trained volunteers capture and document bees and submit specimens to Lincoln Best, a bee taxonomist helping lead the Oregon Bee Atlas project through the Oregon State University Extension Service.

In the latest round of submissions, he reviewed more than 25,000 records.

"I spend about a year working on that material," Best said. "It's a monumental task."

The results released earlier this year revealed an additional 224 unique species, for a total of 650 known species in Oregon.

Many of those species are unlike bees most people are used to seeing.

"Most bees don't live in hives, most don't make honey and most bees are also not likely to sting you," Best explained.

One example was a bee that lives in holes of dried lava beds.

"I'm kind of obsessed," Best said of his work. "Really provides a good foundation for studying other areas."

RELATED: Study points to warming climate as cause of sharp decline in bumblebee populations

Documentation includes how bees interact with plants that need pollination from bees to survive. People often rely on those plants, too.

"Seeds, needs and fruits in flowering plants," Best said.

Many bees are threatened by impacts of pesticides and climate change, so Oregon Bee Atlas data can help find solutions.

"Can aid forest managers and agriculturalists," Best added.

Best has worked to share research tools and training methods with other states and Canada, in the hopes of expanding this type of work.

"If we want to find out if things are getting better or getting worse, we need a high resolution historical snapshot to compare things against," he said.

The Oregon legislature recently approved a package of funding for Oregon's public universities.

OSU said $1 million of that will go toward the Oregon Bee Project, a cooperative effort between Oregon State Extension Service, Oregon Department of Agriculture and the Oregon Department of Forestry. The project was initiated in 2017 to support pollinators and pesticide-use education programs.

Volunteers can contribute to the Oregon Bee Atlas by becoming a certified master melittologist through the OSU Extension Service.

RELATED: Climate change impacting West Coast kelp forests, OSU researcher says

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