2017 Fiji trip yields large cache of biodiversity data

Dwelling on misty mountains and trudging through tropical forests under the cascading sunlight for the pursuit of fantastic insects is an entomological dream. The search for Fiji’s diverse native bee fauna lead Honours student James Dorey and 18 undergraduate students from Flinders and Uni SA to explore the dynamic Fijian islands, seeking adventure, new species and novel scientific discoveries. Under the supervision of A/Prof Mike Schwarz, A/Prof Mark Stevens and PhD students Ben Parslow and Olivia Davies, our team spend 3 weeks in April, doing intensive fieldwork, funded by the New Colombo Plan (Australian Federal Government).

Students sampling along Mt Tomanivi in the highlands of Viti Levu (James Dorey 2017)

The trip resulted in a huge number of specimens and new records.  These included multiple new bee species, the first record of the parasitic wasp genus Gasteruption in Fiji, the first records of bee-parasite interactions in Fiji, and data that allow us to explore the role of Quaternary climate cycles and bee speciation in tropical islands.  The trip was also the first to collect bee and wasp specimens from Fiji’s highest mountain, Mt Tomanivi, a very arduous but (scientifically) rewarding expedition.

Trim’s regular snuggle spot (Ben Parslow 2017).

Whilst staying at our Suva Accommodation we acquired a team mascot in the form of a very affectionate cat, named ‘Trim’ in honour of Matthew Flinders’ cat during his expeditions around Australia.  Our Trim was an expert in sneaking into our apartments at night (not that we tried very hard to exclude her), and took a liking to our insect nets, which she found quite comfy.

The NCP fieldwork in Fiji is aimed at exploring biodiversity and biosecurity issues in the southwest Pacific region.  To date, it has revealed many previously unidentified species, as well as unexpected environmental threats posed by introduced weedy plant species that are aided by the native bee fauna.

Auto montage image of Homalictus fijiensis (James Dorey 2017).

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