German bee species identification key

Master thesis: Building an identification key for German bee species using artificial nesting aids

About 25% of the 571 – 586 species of bees occurring in Germany nest aboveground and are able to use artificial nesting aids. So far, no online identification keys that could be used by non-taxonomists is available. Recent published identification keys cover up to 160 of the species occurring in Germany and contain numerous specialized terms because species in speciose genera can only be discriminated with the help of morphological details (or via DNA barcodes). Identification keys for smaller groups of taxa require fewer differential characters and are therefore easier to build and to use. Another facilitation for users are multi-entry identification keys, which usually only function online because printing them would require a lot of paper. Multi-entry keys use a mixture of “rough” and “fine-grained” characters, with the user deciding which ones he/she wants to use and in which sequence.

For my master thesis, I used the shareware program Lucid 3 to generate a multi-entry identification key for 78 bee species that occur at artificial nesting aids in southern Germany, including 15 cuckoo species the hosts of which use artificial nesting aids. For each species, I compiled two profiles (datamatrices), one for males and one for females, together with a profile with additional information about the species’ habitat and flower preferences. For 67 of the 78 species I produced four high-resolution photos of needled bees from the zoological collection in Munich. I tested and improved my key with the help of 28 volunteers with different levels of experience with bee taxonomy. The tests showed that 35 species could confidently be determined to species level, while 43 species could only be determined to genus level. Misinterpretations occurred, when the bees were old and their wings and hairs worn. For such situations, I added further “rarely occurring” characters. The identification key with my close up photos will be made available on the webpages of the Munich Botanical Garden, where I carried out some of my work.

Text: Eva-Maria Reicheneder, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München