Back in the summer I produced a series of posts for Pollinator Awareness Week highlighting the pollinators to be found in our own urban garden in Northampton. One of those posts was of what I believed to be the Little flower bee (Anthophora bimaculata), a species which at the time I’d never previously seen. I noted that this was a new urban record for Northampton as my PhD student Muzafar Sirohi had not recorded it during his bee surveys, which I discussed earlier this year.
Some time later I checked the bee records on the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) Gateway site and realised that not only was this the first urban record of the species in Northampton, it was actually the first record for the county of Northamptonshire as a whole! The record has recently been accepted on iRecord and will be added to the NBN records.
Of course this is personally exciting (a new record for a large county found in our back garden) and it adds a significant regional record to the currently known distribution of the species. The map on the BWARS account of Anthophora bimaculata shows that the species is predominantly southern in its distribution, with a few eastern and western outliers. This new record places the species firmly in the centre of England, confirming that it is more widespread than previously assumed.
There are two possible explanations for the discovery of this bee in Northamptonshire. One is that it’s a very recent range expansion and the species is becoming more common and widespread, perhaps as a result of climate change. The second is that it’s always been present in Northamptonshire, but just never recorded. At the moment it’s impossible to decide between these two possibilities as there’s evidence to support both. Not only did Muzafar not record A. bimaculata in his surveys in 2012, neither did Dr Hilary Erenler, Dr Sam Tarrant or Kathryn Harrold in their pollinator surveys in the region between 2007 and 2015. Having said that, we do know that Northamptonshire is a historically under-recorded county for bees as it has no County Recorder for Hymenoptera, and both Hilary and Muzafar recorded species new to Northamptonshire, which I hope to report on at a later stage.
Differentiating between these two scenarios will be difficult and may be impossible unless we can discover previously unknown historical specimens of this bee that were collected in the county, or the species continues to expand in its range.
Understanding the distribution of pollinators such as bees is a key component of initiatives such as the National Pollinator Strategy – if we don’t know where the things we are trying to conserve actually are, how can we conserve them? So it’s very pleasing to be able to make a small contribution to that process from the comfort of our own garden!