Flinders University discovers new bee species in the Pacific

Flinders University has announced the discovery of eight new bee species and insights into bird behavior in Viti Levu, Fiji, finding concrete answers to the Michener mystery

Flinders University has recently unveiled a groundbreaking discovery of eight new bee species in the Pacific, alongside invaluable insights into bird behavior on the island of Viti Levu, Fiji. These studies shed light on previously unexplored aspects of biodiversity and the ecosystem of these remote islands, providing fresh perspectives on conservation and the biology of native species.

The research conducted has revealed a group of bees previously unidentified, demonstrating the hidden richness in the forest canopies of the area. These findings, the result of years of investigation and sampling, have highlighted the presence of endemic bees of Fiji, which have eluded scientific discovery until now. Among these, the Hylaeus derectus, a small-sized species (3-5 mm) found near Mount Nadarivatu on Viti Levu, stands as a prime example of the island’s specific biodiversity.

Hylaeus bee

©James Dorey/Flinders University

The Mystery of Michener

These new species also offer a solution to the so-called “Mystery of Michener,” a longstanding puzzle within the scientific community regarding how the small-sized Hylaeus bees have managed to disperse across vast oceanic distances to colonize remote islands like those of French Polynesia.

The Hylaeus bees, characterized by their small size (between 3 and 5 mm), have shown a remarkable capacity for dispersion, overcoming distances from 4000 km of Hawaii to 6000 km of Australia to reach French Polynesia. The presence of these bees in such widely separated locations has long puzzled scientists, as it was unclear how they could have overcome such vast oceanic distances, considering their small size and limited flight capabilities compared to other insects.

The recent discovery provides significant explanations for this enigma, indicating that the forests of the Pacific islands serve as “ecological bridges” or stepping stones that facilitate the dispersion of these bees from one island to another. This process could be supported by various factors, such as air currents, birds, or even floating debris, which help the bees travel over long distances.

The newly discovered bees, unlike the more resilient Homalictus, which are generalists and adapted to human-altered environments, show a greater sensitivity to deforestation. This vulnerability makes them particularly important from an ecological standpoint, being critical pollinators for the biodiversity of Fiji’s forest habitats.

In parallel with the entomological discovery, the studies have deepened our understanding of the behavior of native birds on Viti Levu, examining the impact of human activities on their survival. The research has analyzed species such as the Gray-backed White-eye, Layard’s White-eye, the Vanikoro Flycatcher, and the Slate Monarch, providing essential data for conservation and habitat management in response to climate change and anthropogenic pressures.

Source: Flinders University

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