‘Extinct’ bee rediscovered, but still at risk


By Nik Tatarnic

Douglas’s broad-headed bee, Hesperocolletes douglasi

Sharni Hamann, Reporter

A native bee species called the Douglas’s broad-headed bee, Hesperocolletes douglasi, believed to be extinct in 1994 was recently rediscovered in Perth. The discovery of the bee in remnant Banksia woodland was announced in the findings from a recent survey led by UWA PhD candidate Juliana Pille Arnold.

Bees in Australia can be categorised into two groups; native bees and honey bees. There are approximately 2000 different kinds of native bees in Australia, with an estimated total of 800 in Western Australia, that play a vital role in collecting and storing pollen and nectar by pollinating our bushland and wildflowers. Most are solitary bees that don’t live in colonies or hives, making it a challenge to manage them.

Honey bees originate from Europe and were brought over by settlers who were homesick and yearned for treats from home. Honey bees live in colonies (hives) in a hierarchy; queen bee, drones and workers. The queen bee is the mother of most of the bees in the colony, the drones are the male bees who don’t gather nectar or pollen, but aim to mate with the queen and the worker bees are the females who gather and protect the pollen.

Honey and beeswax aren’t the only thing bees provide us with, they are vital to our ecosystem. According to the Wheen Bee Foundation, almost two-thirds of Australia’s agriculture benefits from honey bee pollination. The honey bees pollinate crops that both we and livestock eat, improving their quality and yields. Native bees play a large role in pollinating native wildflowers and other plants that honey bees can’t.

The rediscovery of the Douglas’s broad-headed bee illustrates a concern for the welfare of bees due to the environmental degradation in Western Australia.

“In Western Australia, urbanisation and land clearing has reduced native biodiversity in Banksia woodlands, a highly biodiverse ecological community that is under increasing pressure, from clearing and fragmentation due to urban development,” Ms Pille Arnold said.

This destruction of natural habitats is having a damaging effect on Australian native and honey bees. These bee populations diminishing at troubling rates, raises questions about the further damage that can be done. However, there are positive ways we can help conserve the native bees, such as making bee hotels that can support the bees in our backyards.

Bee hotels are essentially a nest that will encourage breeding however, research is necessary as each breed has their own distinct characteristics and needs, and not all native bees can benefit from them.

“Many other native bee species are ground-nesting, therefore they need suitable substrate for making borrows, so bee hotels won’t help them,” she added.

The growing of native plants and avoiding the use of pesticides in your garden, creates a safe environment which helps, though on a grand scale we should be maintaining the remnant of woodland across WA.

“Our rediscovery of the rare Douglas’s broad-headed bee, listed as ‘presumed extinct’ for almost a century, shows that urban bushland fragments, still have great conservation value. This rediscovery provides an opportunity to save the species from extinction and is a reminder that we need to protect and manage urban landscapes, to safeguard habitat for this and other threatened species.”