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Bee biodiversity in flux on Fiji

By Brooks Hays
Bee biodiversity in flux on Fiji
The Homalictus achrostus is one of 11 new bee species scientists have found living on the island of Fiji over the last several years. Photo by James Dorey/Flinders University

Sept. 23 (UPI) -- Scientists have discovered several new bee species on Fiji, but researchers have also found evidence of increasing environmental pressures.

Bee biodiversity on the South Pacific island of Fiji continues to surprise scientists. In a new study, scientists got the opportunity to name nine new species. The good news, however, arrived with bad news.

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According to the new paper, published Monday in the journal ZooTaxa, a combination of climate change, noxious weeds and harmful human activities are beginning to threaten several of the island's pollinators.

Scientists highlighted the threats facing the island's bees with the new scientific names.

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"Homalictus terminalis is named so to indicate that, like many Fijian bees, it is nearing its limit and is at risk of climate-related extinction," James Dorey, a doctoral candidate at Flinders University in Australia, said in a news release. "Found only on Mount Batilamu near the city of Nadi, where many tourists launch their holidays, H. terminalis has only been found within 95 meters of the mountain peak."

Homalictus achrostus, another of the new species -- found over the last several years and named in the latest paper -- is also only found on a single mountain top. The black bee boasts unusually large mandibles.

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"Six individuals were collected on Mount Nadarivatu in the 1970s and two in 2010, but despite frequent searching almost every year since no more have been found," said study co-author Mike Schwarz, an associate professor at Flinders. "A likely driver of this possible extinction is changing climates. The cooler climate of the Fijian highlands could be slowly pushed upwards and off the top of the mountains bringing with it the species that require this climatic refuge."

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As climate change pushes the island's bees higher and higher, the endemic species may run out of mountain.

Niche ecosystems support tremendous biodiversity, and research has shown some niche ecosystems can provide refuge from climate change. But species with limited ranges are increasingly susceptible to rising temperatures.

"Most of the species diversity -- 11 species -- live 800 meters or more above sea level, which highlights the vulnerability of highland-restricted species to a warming climate," said Mark Stevens, South Australia Museum senior researcher.

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