Getting to know our natives

My research is looking at the role and impact of introduced honey bees on New Zealand native forest ecosystems. But in order to understand native ecosystems, it is important to know the main players in those ecosystems. I have spent the last few years becoming well versed in New Zealand forest plants, and its time now to increase my forest fauna repertoire.

Yesterday I spent about 5 hours with the New Zealand Arthropod Collection (NZAC) at Landcare Research, Auckland, pouring over specimens of our native bees. The NZAC is basically a library of invertebrates that are pinned or preserved in alcohol. It was started in 1920 and now has about 6.5 million specimens, of which about 1 million are pinned. It is the most comprehensive collection of terrestrial invertebrates in New Zealand.

The collection of pinned specimens is well protected with air-conditioned facilities, insecticide treatments, and even an inert gas flooding system (Argonite) to protect it against fire. The alcohol preserved specimens are kept in an adjacent building and are also protected, being stored in a darkened, locked room.

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New Zealand has 41 species of bee, in all: 27 endemic (found only in New Zealand), 1 indigenous (native to NZ  and Australia), 5 adventive (assisted inadvertently by humans), and 8 imported (including honey bees, bumble bees, leaf cutter bees and a few others). The exotic bees that were intentionally introduced (imported) were brought into New Zealand mainly for pollination of non-native crops and pasture. They are a lot bigger than our native bees. The picture above shows a size comparison of some of these bees. The top row are introduced honey bees, the second row are Leioproctus (subgenus Leiproctus), the third row are Leioproctus (subgenus Nesocolletes) on the left, and Hylaeus on the right, and the bottom row are Lasioglossum.

New Zealand bees and their taxonomic placement are summarized in the table below (produced using information from Donovan, B.J. 2007. Apoidea (Insecta: Hymenoptera).

New Zealand Bees

Spending some time getting to know native bees has been fascinating! I hope you will keep an eye out for them in your garden.

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