The more we learn about species, the better we can measure and understand impacts of environmental change. The reduction and fragmentation of the Atlantic coastal forest biome in Brazil makes it a natural laboratory for studying such ecological phenomena. A once contiguous and unique ecosystem, the Atlantic forest is now an archipelago-like series of forest remnants.
An orchid bee that was once common locally may be a bellwether for species dependent upon large tracts of forest. In part to determine whether this species could be found in now-reduced forests where it was known to occur 40 years ago and in part to complete the first survey of orchid bees in three forest reserves, André Nemésio of the Universidade Federal de Uberlândia collected more than 1,600 specimens with a couple of interesting results. First, a different orchid bee was dominant at each of the three sites. And second, the target species, Euglossa marianae, was not present, raising the possibility that it is extinct.
Orchid bees occupy a special place in evolutionary biology. TheVarious Contrivances by Which Orchids are Fertilised by Insects by Charles Darwin revealed the amazing adaptations of orchids for attracting pollinators. Euglossine or orchid bees have equally impressive adaptations. Males that visit orchids have specially modified legs that allow them to gather and retain esters later used in female attractants. The rare beauty of orchids and their remarkable relationships with bees is a reminder that sustaining biodiversity means valuing and monitoring the status of individual species.
Euglossa marianae has never been collected from a forest smaller than 2,700 hectares and appears to have disappeared in recent years from areas where deforestation has significantly diminished forest cover. This is a wake-up call to pay attention to the implications of habitat fragmentation and to monitor the status of species sensitive to change.