Birds and new bees of Fiji revealed

A field trip to Fiji has revealed 8 new Pacific bee species and new insights into bird behaviour.

Two papers have been published from the trip which highlight the importance of Asia-Pacific research collaboration for species discovery, conservation and cultural engagement.

The new studies, led by Flinders University scientists and supported by the Australian Government’s New Colombo Plan Mobility Program, are published in New Zealand Journal of Zoology and Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

For 10 years, Flinders University scientists have worked closely with the University of the South Pacific (USP) in Fiji to organise field trips. The most recent trip explored Viti Levu Island.

Panorama of forest on viti levu island, fiji
Panorama of forest on Viti Levu Island, Fiji. Credit: James Dorey Photography.

“Our investigations have discovered an extra group of endemic bees in Fiji that have remained ‘hidden’ in the forest canopy despite years of looking and sampling,” says Australian native bee expert Dr James Dorey, now a lecturer at the University of Wollongong. “Through our local collaborations, we also know that these bees are widespread in the Pacific.”

Dorey adds that their findings have solved the mystery of how these 3–5mm Hylaeus made it to French Polynesia, flying from archipelago to archipelago. The bees dispersed over time from their closest relatives 4,000km north in Hawai‘i and 6,000km west in Australia.

Six of the species found on the island make up only the second native genus in Fiji.

As the bee flies, one species was found 3,000km away in French Polynesia, and another in Micronesia. This highlights the value of forests to pollinators and the potential for many more species to be found across the Pacific.

“Unlike the super-generalist Homalictus bees that inhabit Fiji and likely benefitted from ancient human-clearing, the Fijian Hylaeus are likely very vulnerable to anthropogenic clearing and may be critical pollinators in forest habitats,” says Dr Dorey.

Microscopic image of native fiji bee on black background
Hylaeus navai female. Credit: James Dorey Photography.

Flinders University and University of South Australia researchers also worked with USP scientists to find out more about Fiji’s native forest birds.

They found local species – the silvereye, Fiji white-eye, Vanikoro flycatcher and the Slaty monarch – were more aggressive in defending their territories at higher elevations. It is possible this is due to insects they feed on being less abundant higher up, or that more aggressive species are found at higher elevations.

The authors write that such interactions within species “can be explored in relation to avian behaviour also in the context of human activity, human disturbance and threats to the persistence of birds across elevational gradients.”

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