Tuesday, 24 September 2019 06:23

Bee species in Fiji dying out due to climate change, Flinders team claims

The impressive black Homalictus achrostus which has unusually large mandibles, The impressive black Homalictus achrostus which has unusually large mandibles, Supplied

Climate change, noxious weeds and a number of human activities are leading to the extinction of bee species in Fiji, even as Australian researchers are discovering new species, it is claimed.

Flinders University doctoral candidate James Dorey said the risks were being highlighted by the naming of new species.

For example, one bee species, Homalictus terminalis, so named to indicate that, like many Fijian bees, it was at risk of climate-related extinction, had been found only in one location.

"[It is] found only on Mount Batilamu near the city of Nadi, where many tourists launch their holidays, H. terminalis has only been found within 95 metres of the mountain peak, Dorey said in a statement issued by the institution.

Under the Federal Government's New Colombo Plan mobility overseas study program, a number of university students from South Australia have been visiting Fiji and have named nine new species in their latest research published in Zootaxa.

Homalictus achrostus, a species with very large mandibles, was again found on just one mountain top.

fiji highlands

A view of the Fiji highlands where the researchers have been working. Supplied

“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 Flinders University associate professor Mike Schwarz, a co-author of the paper.

“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.

“With Homalictus achrostus one of the four previously described species of endemic bee in Fiji, this raises real concerns about the extinction of many highland species in Fiji and across all of the tropics.”

One of the new species, Homalictus groomi, was named after Flinders biological sciences graduate Dr Scott Groom, who has been uncovering this hidden diversity using molecular techniques with Flinders University and the South Australian Museum in 2009.

South Australia Museum terrestrial invertebrates senior researcher Dr Mark Stevens said the bee genus Homalictus — which is known as Homalictus Cockerell as it was first described by a person who bore that surname — had not been taxonomically reviewed in the Fijian archipelago for 40 years.

“These field trips have allowed us to redescribe four known species and describe nine new ones, bringing the number of endemic Homalictus in Fiji to 13 species,” he said.

“Most of the species diversity (11 species) live 800 metres or more above sea level, which highlights the vulnerability of highland-restricted species to a warming climate.”

Previous New Colombo Plan biological sciences field trips have also studied the effects of noxious weeds and human activities on other animals and plants in Fiji.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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