Homalictus Terminalis: New Bee Species Discovered Is Already at Risk of Extinction From Climate Change

Researchers have discovered several colorful new bee species in the Pacific nation of Fiji. However, they may already be at risk of extinction, likely as a result of climate change.

A team of scientists led by James Dorey, a Ph.D. candidate from Flinders University in Australia, identified nine new species described in a study published in the journal Zootaxa.

The new species all belong to the genus known as Homalictus Cockerell, which scientists have not reviewed in Fiji from a taxonomic perspective for 40 years.

"The new bee species have been discovered over several years worth of field work in Fiji and DNA barcoding," Dorey told Newsweek. "We initially realised that there were many more species than just the four that were described when Dr. Scott Groom started our work in Fiji. Since Dr. Groom's work we have been back almost every year since and every year, we find new species."

"These field trips have allowed us to redescribe four known species and describe nine new ones, bringing the number of endemic Homalictus in Fiji to 13 species," Mark Stevens, one of the authors of the study from Flinders, said in a statement.

The new species described in the study are named H. atritergus, H. concavus, H. groomi, H. kaicolo, H. nadarivatu, H. ostridorsum, H. taveuni, H. terminalis and H. tuiwawae.

"We are absolutely surprised at the diversity of the bee genus Homalictus in Fiji," Dorey said. "We now have over 20 species of Homalictus bee in Fiji. We have the same genus here in Australia, which has just over 40 species. Considering Australia is over 400 times the size of Fiji, it is Very interesting to consider how it came to have such high species diversity. But, that is the topic of a forthcoming paper."

Interestingly, most of the species in the genus Homalictus Cockerell live in mountainous habitats, more than 2,500 feet above sea level. According to the researchers, this makes them particularly vulnerable to a warming climate.

In fact, many of the species—such as Homalictus terminalis—have only ever been identified on a single mountain top.

"Found only on Mount Batilamu near the city of Nadi, where many tourists launch their holidays, H. terminalis has only been [identified] within 95 meters [around 310 feet] of the mountain peak," Dorey said in a statement.

"Homalictus terminalis is named so to indicate that, like many Fijian bees, it is nearing its limit and is at risk of climate-related extinction," he said.

Among the four previously known species the scientists redescribed is Homalictus achrostus, a bee that features unusually large mandibles—a pair of appendages used for defense and chopping up food.

Like H. terminalis, H. Achrostus has only ever been found on a single mountaintop—in this case, Mount Nadarivatu. In the 1970s, scientists collected six specimens from this location. Two more were found in 2010.

Homalictus terminalis, new bee species
Homalictus terminalis is named to indicate that, like many Fijian bees, it is nearing its limit and is at risk of climate-related extinction. James Dorey, Flinders University

However, none have been collected since then despite several efforts, leading the researchers to suggest that a changing climate is possibly driving the extinction of the species.

"The cooler climate of the Fijian highlands could be slowly pushed upwards and off the top of the mountains bringing with it the species that require this climatic refuge," Mike Schwarz, another author of the paper from Flinders, said in a statement.

"With H. achrostus one of the four previously described species of endemic bee in Fiji, this raises real concerns about the extinction of many highland species in Fiji and across all of the tropics."

Wild bees around the world are facing numerous threats which are endangering the survival of some species. Among these threats are habitat loss due to the spread of agricultural land or changing climate, the presence of harmful pesticides in the environment and the spread of diseases which originate in domesticated honeybee populations.

A decline in wild bees is a problem because these animals have unique relationships with native flowering plants, which keep ecosystems healthy and maintain diversity.

This article was updated with additional comments from James Dorey.

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