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A pollinator survey conducted in Denali National Park and Preserve in 2012 has unveiled the discovery of two new species of pollinators, one of which is found nowhere else on earth. Fewer than 50 species of bumble bees are currently known from North America, and it has been nearly 90 years since a new bumble bee species was discovered.
A recent paper in the Journal of Natural History by Paul Williams et al. describes the new species of bumble bee, Bombus kluanensis, known from just two localities: the Saint Elias Mountains in Yukon, Canada, and Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska.
The new species is in the subgroup Alpinobombus, which includes a handful of northern species most of which have circumpolar distributions, meaning they are found primarily in arctic regions across North America, Europe, and Russia. Bombus kluanensis most closely resembles Bombus neoboreus, commonly known as the active bumble bee. The determination that Bombus neoboreus is a separate species came primarily from genetic evidence, but there are also subtle anatomical differences.
The second new pollinator discovered in the park is a flower fly in the family Syrphidae, which, as yet, remains unnamed. It is in the genus Cheilosia, a group whose immature larvae feed on plant stems or fungi. Some species have been used to control invasive plants such as thistles. There are about 11 species of Cheilosia already known from Alaska and more than 80 found in North America. They are generally small, black, shiny flies. The single specimen collected near the East Fork River in Denali is the only documented individual of this new species. It awaits a formal scientific description and a name.
"I think these two new discoveries really highlight the fact that there is still so much to learn about invertebrate biodiversity in Alaska," said Jessica Rykken, entomologist at Denali National Park and Preserve.
As climate change and other human-caused stressors threaten insect pollinators and their relatives, it is vital that we document the largely unknown arthropod biodiversity in wilderness areas such as Denali. Pollinator (and other arthropod) inventories are ongoing in Denali.
A more structured sampling design along elevational gradients was initiated in 2016, and the hope is to discover many more species in the years to come. To learn more about the vast diversity of invertebrates that call Denali home, visit us online
In celebration of the 100th birthday of America’s national parks, the Alaska Region of the National Park Service is hosting a Centennial Science and Stewardship Symposium this week in Fairbanks. The symposium will highlight how science and scholarship have shaped the past 100 years of national park management and provide a forward look at the next century of preservation and protection in Alaska's national parks. Sessions will feature research and stewardship in national parks and celebrate the partnerships essential to park management.