Tucson Bee Collaborative

All photographs by Bruce D. Taubert


Bees are crucial to ensuring health and resilience in both natural ecosystems and agricultural systems, and in recent years scientists and the general public have become aware that bees are under threat due to climate change and human impacts. But most people don’t realize there are species of bees other than the honeybee, and that these native species are far more important to sustaining healthy ecosystems. Unlike honeybees, which were brought to North America by humans 400 years ago, native bees have lived here for millions of years and are specifically adapted to pollinate flowers in the Sonoran Desert Region. The number of native bee species in this part of the world is staggering. In fact, southeastern Arizona is one of the most important biodiversity hotspots in the world for native bees. More species live here than any other place in the world, with the possible exception of the desert areas in and around Israel. These largely unknown and unsung architects of our landscape are under threat due to changing climate, land use change, and the intensification of agriculture.

The goal of this VIP is to increase knowledge and awareness of our native bees and thus aid conservation efforts to protect these critically important pollinators. We are conducting biotic surveys and inventories, and long-term monitoring projects of native bees throughout the Sonoran Desert Region. We are building a vouchered collection of specimens representing all species curated in the University of Arizona Insect Collection, producing and publishing high-resolution photographs of the specimens, and producing and publishing DNA sequences from standardized regions of their genome. We are thus documenting both the morphological and genetic diversity of our native pollinators, while simultaneously building resources for rapid, reliable species-level identification and creating a standardized baseline for future monitoring of changes in native bee diversity. This VIP is also establishing the systematic and genetic foundation necessary for a myriad of hypothesis-driven research questions related on pollinators, food security, and effects of climate change in the Southwest. 

Issues Involved or Addressed

Our initial questions include:

  • How many species of native bees live in the Sonoran Desert Region?
  • What are the biogeographic affiliations and phylogeographic relationships among these species?
  • How have native bees diversified or radiated within the Sonoran Desert Region?
  • How are interactions between pollinators and plants changing over time and space?

Methods and Tech

This VIP offers students from across campus the opportunity to conduct research with a diverse group of scientists from the Entomology Department at the University of Arizona, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, the US Geological Survey, as well as graduate students in the UA’s Graduate Interdisciplinary Program in Entomology and Insect Science. VIP students will also be immersed in the larger Tucson Bee Collaborative community, providing them the opportunity to interact with systematists, ecologists, docents, science educators, artists, students at Pima Community College, Flowing Wells and Sunnyside high schools, as well as K-6 students through our “We Bee Scientists” project.

Students will gain hands-on experience in one or more of the following:

  • Specimen-based research
  • Insect collection and curation
  • Microscopy
  • Georeferencing
  • DNA Extraction
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Bioinformatics: analysis of DNA sequence data
  • Phylogenetics
  • Self-led research
  • Project management
  • Fieldwork
  • Data collection and management
  • Creative and critical thinking
  • Teaching biotech skills as near-peer mentors
  • Science communication and public outreach

Academic Majors of Interest

Open to all years of study and all majors, including:

  • Entomology
  • Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences
  • Environmental Science
  • Natural Resources
  • Science Communication
  • Visual Art

Team Advisors

Wendy Moore, PhD
Insect Systematics, University of Arizona, Department of Entomology

Kimberly Franklin, PhD
Conservation Research Scientist, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Jennifer Katcher, MS
Instructional Faculty, Pima Community College

Gene Hall, MSc
Collection Manager, UA Insect Collection (UAIC); Insect Diagnostics Clinic, UA Cooperative Extension, Tucson.

Kathryn Thomas, PhD
Supervisory Research Ecologist, U.S. Geological Survey, Southwest Biological Science Center, Tucson



Application Process

For Spring 2023, this VIP team is open to taking on student researchers for course credit. See below for more information about their course-based undergraduate research experience:

CALS297E: Discovering Biodiversity

Tuesdays and Thursdays 9:30-10:45 (3 units)

Description: The Sonoran Desert Region is home to more species of native bees than any other region of the world. In this course our main research goal will be focused on discovering and documenting the diversity of Tucson's native bees. This course provides an introductory research experience that will immerse students in the process of discovering, describing, and classifying biodiversity. We will explore biodiversity research using cutting edge laboratory, field, museum (curatorial), and bioinformatics techniques. The data we collect will be published and shared freely with both the scientific community and the public. 

Course prerequisites: MCB 181 R&L, ECOL 182 R&L