João Maria Franco de Camargo (20 June 1941 - 7 September 2009)
- João Maria Franco de Camargo (20 June 1941 - 7 September 2009)
The entire bee community has lost a deep resource of knowledge with the recent passing of João Camargo. Following a stroke and subsequent complications, Camargo passed away in Ribeirão Preto, Brazil, at the age of only 68. Camargo's research on stingless bees, which he studied for nearly 50 years, provides an invaluable legacy to all students of social insect behavior and evolution. Camargo also enthusiastically pursued evidence for large-scale past events in tropical South America by examining the historical biogeography of stingless bees. His contribution to science through the study of stingless bees was thus broad and will continue to have an impact for years to come. I was to begin a postdoc with him in September.
My contact with Camargo began in 2001, when I started shipping Peruvian bees to specialists around the world for identification. Of the many specialists I heard back from, Camargo stood out in particular. Not only had each of my hundreds of stingless bees on their return been carefully labeled and given a name (even if only a Camargo manuscript name), but the fact that *all* of the bees were identified and meticulously placed at equidistance in straight lines impressed me. Clearly this was someone who had a deep knowledge and love of these bees. As a special service, Camargo also provided an identification sheet with all of the label data from my bees written down along with their identifications. In his later identifications for me, these lists became more interesting and included notes on how to distinguish certain species and distributional notations. No other specialist was that detailed in their study of my material, and no other specialist was able to put a name on so many bees. On my first personal meeting with Camargo in 2005, I praised the rigor with which he performed his taxonomic revisions and identifications, but Camargo merely replied that those were the necessary steps for him to achieve his ultimate goal of elucidating the biogeographical history of the Amazonian region of South America.
Entering science in the early sixties, Camargo had the opportunity to work with the leading social insect scientists in Brazil at the time, namely Warwick E. Kerr and Shôichi F. Sakagami, who were also responsible for taking Camargo to the Amazon where stingless bees appear more abundant than any other kind of bee, and certainly provided the first base for his impressive collecting. Anyone who is familiar with Camargo's work and his laboratory, will know that his stingless bee collection is extraordinarily important and better curated than any, or most, other such collections. During his many years of traveling, mainly throughout Brazil, Camargo amassed some 180,000 pinned stingless bee specimens, but more importantly than the specimens alone, is the associated collection of nest pieces from several thousand nests, photographs of these, and original drawings from the field. In addition he organized thousands of jars containing brood cells, workers, queens, and males from all of the nests he collected. This unique and exceptionally well curated collection of stingless bees, the best and largest for the group in the world, was the pride of Camargo and the foundation for all of his research.
Camargo made no compromises in the rigor of his research, and took the time and effort necessary to complete large and comprehensive contributions, including the artistic masterpiece on the nest architecture of Partamona with Pedro in 2003. The study of Partamona began much earlier and showcases the care Camargo took in compiling all the facts before publishing a study; the yellow species of the genus were the subject of Camargo's Masters thesis (1978) 25 years earlier under the supervision of Padre Jesus S. Moure at the Universidade Federal do Paraná. The 2003 study was remarkable in integrating field observations with morphology, biogeography and behavior. Camargo himself often highlighted that research as an example of the importance of studying insects in the field in addition to museum studies. Partamona species are notoriously difficult to separate based on their external morphology alone, but Camargo demonstrated that the nest architecture for each species could be used as an extended morphological dataset, often providing the reliable characters for their separation, which were obscured in worn specimens or too microscopic for most untrained eyes. Of several earlier attempts to formulate a hypothesis on the historical biogeography of the Amazon Basin (e.g., in revisions of Paratrigona and Geotrigona), the Partamona study included the best documented example, delimiting species ranges to specific regions and proposing areas of ancestral diversification.
Unfortunately much of Camargo's immense knowledge remained unpublished. Many taxonomic revisions were ongoing at the time of his death, and it will be up to future curators of the collection to continue research based on the valuable material. Silvia Pedro, who collaborated with Camargo for more than two decades, is currently the curator of the collection and completing their last joint manuscripts. I personally will miss Camargo's ideas and discussions. He was an exemplary scholar with a strong, albeit educated, opinion about most topics in the biological sciences, and always welcomed any discussion in his office- sipping strong Brazilian coffee- or over a typical Brazilian meal in one of his favorite churrascarias.