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UNH Research: Bees Nearly Went The Way Of The Dinosaurs

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According to new research out of UNH, the same event that spelled the end of the dinosaurs nearly did in bees as well. An investigation into the genome of the small carpenter bee shows bee evolution ground to nearly a halt right around the time dinosaurs died out.

UNH professor Sandra Rehan was busy mapping out the ancestral trees of the four tribes of carpenter bees she studies when she noticed something funny: around 65 million years ago evolution paused.

“We discovered that there was a long period of stasis in all four tribes of bees, around 65 million years ago,” she says.

That date corresponds with the time the dinosaurs were wiped out, and Rehan’s research indicates 90 percent of bee species went with them. The ones that survived didn’t have as much genetic diversity, so mutation and new species creation, slowed way down.

“Mutation should occur at a constant rate over time, and so when you see this long period where nothing occurred, that’s indicative of a mass extinction event,” she explains

Rehan calls the analysis “unprecedented” and says the next step is to do this work with other bees to find what other species are survivors.

Sam Evans-Brown has been working for New Hampshire Public Radio since 2010, when he began as a freelancer. He shifted gears in 2016 and began producing Outside/In, a podcast and radio show about “the natural world and how we use it.” His work has won him several awards, including two regional Edward R. Murrow awards, one national Murrow, and the Overseas Press Club of America's award for best environmental reporting in any medium. He studied Politics and Spanish at Bates College, and before reporting was variously employed as a Spanish teacher, farmer, bicycle mechanic, ski coach, research assistant, a wilderness trip leader and a technical supporter.
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