How poorly we understand the distribution and abundance of bees

Michael Batley, Australian Museum, Sydney
Tim asked me for an update on the articles I wrote about bushfire and bees, published in issue 12, July 2020 of the Cross-Pollinator. I have little useful information to add, but I have learnt about how poorly we understand bees as the following example shows.

In the previous story I was concerned about a population of the bee species that I will call Leioproctus aff. douglasiellus. The “aff.” part of the name is from the Latin word “affinis” which means “closely related to”. So Leioproctus aff. douglasiellus is similar to the endangered Western Australian species Leioproctus douglasiellus but may have been separated long enough to be considered a separate species. The 2019 fires destroyed the only place where I had regularly found the bee, but in the years before that, it had become clear that the bees preferentially visited Goodenia flowers.

Before I began monitoring the site, I had found one male in late December 2004 and then Norman Rodd had collected 3 specimens between 1978 and 1993, also in late December. Around that time of year, I would tramp for hours through fields of flowering Goodenia without finding the bees except at the site I was monitoring. The 2019 fire taught me that the bees actually emerged in late November, so this year I decided to look for them at the beginning of December. Not only were they present where I had found them before, but they were at other places on the surrounding plateau and were almost abundant at one site. My guess is that they are present throughout an area of at least 50 km2.

Next year I will start searching much further afield. I had mistakenly thought the bees were rarer than they are because initially I did not know what flower the bees visit or when they are present in greatest numbers. Small pieces of information can be quite important.

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