Conference 2022

3rd Australian Native Bee Conference 2022

Acknowledgement, Organisers & volunteers
We thank all who contributed freely to the conference.
ANBA Management committee members including President Ian Driver, Treasurer Peter Stone, Website Administrator Steve Flavel provided baseload support.
Brisbane branch members Jennifer and Greg Shea, and Sydney members, Dan Smailes Sam Higgins, Natalie Er and Michelle Carrick were solid on the ground.
Jiali Zhang and David Anderson photographed the event.
Volunteers at the front desk, Rachele Wilson and Lena Schmidt checked everyone in.
Organizing committee! What a stellar team who gave the long-term planning and the chaired the sessions.
Glenbo Craig designed the useful and handsome program book, the subject of much admiration. A few spare program books are available for sale, $10. Ask your branch rep.

Uncle Lex Dadd, Darug custodian, welcomed us to country and performed a smoking ceremony. He sang ancient songs and burned gum leaves. Everyone enjoyed the op-portunity to sense the smoke, cleanse bad energy and manifest good energy.

We heard from 40 speakers from most states and territories, who presented line-up of first-class talks. They also availed themselves for session Q&As. The full list is up on our website,

Speakers view of the appreciative audience

Saul Cunningham reflects on the speakers
Prof Saul Cunningham is Director of the Fenner School for Environment and Society at the Australian National University. Previously he spent 17 years with CSIRO. He has published papers on the importance of crop pollination to food production in the world’s major science journals. His team works on pollination of crops interacting with farming industry groups and landholder groups.

There were too many great talks to focus on individuals, so instead I’ll try to summarise some of the overall themes that emerged from the meeting.
The overarching theme that I took from the conference was not so much that researchers were doing totally unheard of novel things – it’s more that work was presented which brought depth and nuance to our understanding of the biology and ecology of native bees. For example, people were taking ideas that have been developed in studies of Apis mellifera and then examining whether or not the same insights applied to various native bees.

Thermal limits to behavior and evolution.
There were many projects that touched on the way that thermal constraints limit the behaviour and evolution of bees. I love that on day one we talked in euphemistic language about giving bees ‘a warm bath’ and ‘gently squeezing them’ but by the second day we were getting more honest with that language and bees were being poisoned and then heated until they died. I like plain speaking. The thermal research is on one hand helping us to understand some really fundamental ecology, but at the same time giving us the applied tools that we need to predict the response of different bees to climate change.

Crop pollination
Lots of different studies presented new learning about the role of native bees in crop pollination, It makes me reflect that 20 years ago this year Tim and I wrote a paper about the future of pollination in Australia, and commented on that small handful of studies that said anything about native bee crop pollination in Australia. In contrast at this one conference we’ve talked about high quality projects examining crop pollination by native bees for apples, berries, mangoes, macadamia, avocado, and lychee. There has been more learning in this one conference than we could find in the history of research up to 2002 so it’s an incredible explosion of work on pollination by native bees which will be really useful in terms of integrating native fauna into agricultural systems and improving species conservation outcomes.

Stingless bees
I’m not a stingless bee researcher– I live in Canberra where you can’t even keep them alive, but I have to admit I’m coming around…. What really impresses me is that we’re starting to build an incredible depth of knowledge about this one group of insects. Although researchers will often observe that we need to know more about stingless bees (and focus on what we don’t know) it should be recognised that compared to most other native insects we have a depth of understanding about Australian stingless bees that is incredible. It goes well beyond what we can say for most native insect species. Although I said I wasn’t going to highlight any one person’s research, I do want to single out Toby’s talk on the budding off of a new T. carbonaria colony as an outstanding example of the quality of observations we have about the natural history of stingless bees. That talk opens up all sorts of opportunities for further research.

Habitat manipulation
There were a number of talks that presented really interesting experiments manipulating the availability of nesting materials, like wood, stems, bee hotels, and cu-rated soil samples. There were also studies of the provision of floral resources for bees. The outcomes were many and varied but in this diversity of outcomes we can begin to learn what strategies might work, what might not, and how we need to match the strategy to the context and the bees of interest. The next important steps are to move toward understanding the higher level out-comes. Not just “do bees use this” but “does this habitat manipulation achieve something that is significant to conservation, or agriculture, or some other outcome.”
A couple of talks looked at habitat manipulation post-fire posing the question whether or not people can help bee populations recover post-fire again. That prompted an interesting discussion regarding whether (and when) such approaches would be valuable against the background of natural recovery post fire.

Community engagement
So many interesting projects are out there – but it was really interesting to hear that people were asking the question “what is the outcome we are trying to achieve?” More than once the question was raised, “do we want to continue getting more people keeping stingless bees?” or are we ready to consider a more targeted outcome?

The strongest thing of all to come out of the conference was about the resilience of researchers and beekeepers. Time and again people commented on how they had to adapt their activities for flood, fire, and covid lockdowns. People described experiments that were designed so that they could be conducted in the kitchen or the back gar-den. Whole new experiments were designed that could be conducted within the constraints of the difficult environment we were living in. It was inspiring to me to see the incredible standard of work that people were able to achieve in what was frankly a terrible period of time. (we should be careful about letting the government see what we can do with so few resources!) The incredible adaptability and resilience of our community was really inspiring. I think we should round this off by applauding but the incredible work people presented over this weekend, thank you.

Social events and relationship building
The organizers allowed plenty of opportunities for net-working, discussions and socializing with pre and post conference gathering at the local hotel, a conference dinner and generous breaks between speaker sessions. The dinner was a hit with the witty Sam Higgins running a hilarious trivia quiz. Virtual meetings and web-conferencing may be now common but face-to-face communication establishes trust allowing many new relationships to be forged.

We have been most fortunate to sign up six sponsors. We sincerely thank them for their generous support.

Following the speaker session on stingless bee management, Sam Higgins compered the stingless beekeeping Q&A. A panel of practitioners, pictured L to R: Zac, Isaac, Aislinn, Adam and Giorgio answered questions from Sam and the audience.

Flood recovery Fundraiser
At the Conference we held a fundraiser for a native bee flood recovery program by Courtney Castles, the Stingless Bee Lady, Tweed Heads. We raised over $580 for bee hotel materials for schools across the flood affected areas of northern NSW. Thank you to all those that participated. First prize was this original art by Claire Middleton.

Hive exhibition
Winner of this friendly but gently competitive event was judged to be David Anderson with his log cabin inspired hive.

Feedback from Conference Registrants
We received 17 anonymous comments in our feedback box, many thanks to those who responded.
Positive comments included the following:
• Atmosphere of friendliness and encouragement
• Well organized and structured, ran on time
• Short and sharp presentations, separated by lengthy breaks for networking and relaxing
• Effective use of technology
• Young people present, speaking and exhibiting
• “One of the best experiences of my life!”
• “Fantastic groups of speakers, up-to-date subjects”.

Suggestions for improvements:
• More practical talks and activities
• More on commercialisation
• More games, activities and field trips
• More appropriate venue

Response from the organizing committee
We will try harder to encourage more presentations on applied topics.
We will coach our science presenters on how to address a broad audience and emphasize the application of their work.
We will consider holding an alternating event that is hands-on and grassroots, e.g. a Native Bee Expo, while continuing to hold the conference.
We will tip the balance in the organizing committee to-wards more bee keepers. If you have this background and are willing to sit on this committee, please put up your hand to help out.

Next conference
A resounded vote to hold another conference led to a discussion to when and where. Our conference is settling into a biennial pattern: 2018 Gold Coast, 2019 Brisbane, 2022 Sydney. So where to in 2024?. Suggestions for the 4th conference included Cairns, Sunshine Coast and Darwin, with a vote of hands favouring Darwin. The organising committee will reflect and propose options for your consideration next year.
Report By Tim Heard, Chair of organizing committee

Photo Competition

Winners were voted by an online public poll and announced at the 3rd Australian Native Bee Conference. Tied entries were decided by the attendee votes. The winning images are shown on this page.
Each winner gets a $100 cash prize, donated by the Australian Native Bee Association.
All 100 entries can be seen here: