Bird and bee discoveries in the Pacific

Eight new Pacific bee species and new insights into Fijian bird behaviour on Viti Levu Island have been described in new scientific studies led by Flinders University.

The studies, both funded by field work supported by the Australian Government’s New Colombo Mobility Plan Program, highlight the potential for species discovery, ecological and conservation knowledge and cultural engagement from Asia-Pacific research collaborations.

In the past 10 years, Australian Government-funded Flinders University field trips have worked closely with the University of the South Pacific, government agencies and other researchers to support important ecology and conservation work in Fiji.

Flinders PhDs Dr James Dorey and Dr Ben Parslow joined researchers from Fiji, Hawaii and Australia to study a totally new group of bees in forest canopies.

Flinders University students sample in a remote rainforest on the Fijian island of Vanua Levu with two young locals helping to spot insects. The scale of the forest compared to the insect nets demonstrates some issues of sampling without a canopy net. Courtesy 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 Dorey, now a lecturer at the University of Wollongong.

“Through our local collaborations, we also know that these bees are widespread in the Pacific.

“Happily, this also solves ‘Michener’s mystery’ about how these tiny (3-5mm) Hylaeus made it to French Polynesia, dispersing over time from their closest relatives which were 4000km north in Hawaii and 6000km west in Australia.”

Six Fijian species found foraging in trees are only the second native genus on the archipelago. One was found in French Polynesia (“more than 3000km as the bee flies”) and one in Micronesia – further highlighting their 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.

Navai Village on the island of Viti Levu, Fiji. Including locals, guides, hosts, and Flinders and UniSA students that were funded by the Government’s New Colombo Plan in 2019. courtesy James Dorey Photography

Co-author Dr Ben Parslow, South Australian Museum taxonomist, says the study emphasises the benefits of long records of sampling in understanding diversity and conservation measures required for bee and other pollinators – particularly for land and environmental managers.

The study references the pioneering work of US entomologist Charles Michener who wrote the seminal work Bees of the World in 2007, including studies on the social evolution of the Halictidae bee family in the 1960s.

In another study, Flinders University and University of South Australia (UniSA) researchers worked with University of the South Pacific (USP) researchers to understand more about native forest birds in Fiji.

Dr Alivereti Naikatini examining a grey strikethrush as part of the research.

USP Dr Alivereti Naikatini, with Flinders Professor Sonia Kleindorfer (now University of Vienna) and UniSA Associate Professor Gunnar Keppel, have recently published on the insect foraging and territorial defence of Fiji’s forest birds – focusing on the impacts of human disturbance and other threats to their survival.

Common bird species silvereye, Fiji white-eye, Vanikoro flycatcher and the Slaty monarch were studied in community-managed national parks on Viti Levu Island were studied over three years, from 2017 and 2019.

This kind of information can be useful to plan habitat refuge and protection under conditions of climate change or further human activity, says Flinders Professor Kleindorfer.

Read more in ‘Elevational differences in territory defence response in native (endemic and non-endemic) forest birds on Viti Levu Island, Fiji’ (2023) by Alivereti N Naikatini, Gunnar Keppel, Gilianne Brodie and Sonia Kleindorfer  in the New Zealand Journal of Zoology. DOI: 10.1080/03014223.2023.2268533


This little bee (3–5 mm) bee Hylaeus derectus is only known thus far from near Mt Nadarivatu on Viti Levu, Fiji. It was collected from a canopy-flowering mistletoe. Courtesy James Dorey Photography

Canopy specialist Hylaeus bees highlight sampling biases and resolve Michener’s mystery’ (2024) by James B Dorey, Olivia K Davies, Karl N Magnacca, Michael P Schwarz, Amy-Marie Gilpin, Thibault Ramage, Marika Tuiwawa, Scott VC Groom, Mark I Stevens and Ben A Parslow just published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution DOI: 10.3389/fevo.2024.1339446.

Acknowledgements: The bee field work was funded by the Australian Government’s New Colombo Plan Mobility Program and Research Training Program scholarship, Playford Trust and Waterhouse Club. The bird study was funded by the New Colombo Mobility Plan and the University of South Pacific Research Fund.

Read more in The Conversation: Secrets in the canopy: scientists discover 8 striking new bee species in the Pacific


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