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By  Banpreet Shahi 19 May 2024 5 min read

Key points

  • There are unbee-lievable benefits to supporting Australia’s native bee biodiversity.
  • Bee enthusiasts can help native bees by building bee hotels, growing native gardens and participating in citizen science projects.
  • The Australian National Insect Collection holds more than 55,000 reference specimens of native bees collected across Australia.

To bee or not to bee, that is the question. The answer, of course, is to bee.

The majority of Australia’s native bees, like Blue-banded Bees from the genus Amegilla, are solitary species. A small minority, like Sugarbag Bees (Tetragonula carbonaria), are social and make honey. Only about 0.6 per cent of all Australian native bee species make honey.

Australian Banded-Digger (Amegilla cingulata) © Karin Taylor via iNaturalist CC-BY-NC-ND

Native bees are incredibly diverse in their appearance and habits. Some are yellow and black. Others are iridescent green or wasp-like or have blue stripes. Some may build nests with wax, while others use plant material, burrow in soil or use holes in wood!

Native bees play a pivotal role in providing pollination services to both natural ecosystems and agricultural systems. But we lack understanding of their biodiversity, biology, ecological roles and conservation status. The current count for Australia’s native bees is 1653 species. Another 500 or so additional species haven't been scientifically named yet.

Do you want to help your local native bees but don’t know where to start? We’re here to bee helpful.

Build a bee hotel 

Our native bees live in different types of houses. Most native bees lay their eggs in tiny, narrow burrows in trees, on the ground or in dead sticks. So, one way to encourage native bees is to create more bee-friendly hollows in our gardens. By making a bee hotel, you’re providing some much-needed habitat for your local native bees. 

A DIY bee hotel, featuring a metal can and bamboo stakes.

To build your DIY bee hotel you will need: 

  • Metal can with a pop lid, like a Milo or instant milk can (don’t use soup cans with pull lids because they have sharp edges) 
  • Ruler
  • Permanent marker
  • Bamboo stakes with holes 4-9 mm across
  • Brown string or jute twine
  • Scissors
  • Hand saw
  • An adult to do the sawing

Once you’ve assembled your tools and are buzzing to go, head on over to our Double Helix blog for instructions on completing your mission.

Grow flowering plants for bees

How many different species of bees visit a garden depends on several factors. The diversity of floral resources (food) and nesting sites it provides, and its proximity to natural bushland, are important factors.

To make your garden attractive to local native bees, plant a variety of flowering plants. Focus on the ones native to your area.

But you’re not done yet! Your garden can bee-come even more attractive through observation. By monitoring bee behaviour, you can determine which of these plants are attractive to the local native bees. This way you can encourage future and more frequent visitors.

Megachile macularis © Nature_Lover via iNaturalist CC-BY-NC

Bee-come a citizen scientist

Science is for everyone. For decades, keen amateur naturalists have been gathering data about nature and the environment around them – and sharing it.

All you need is a phone or other device with a camera, and ambition to explore. You can snap a photo of your local visiting bee and upload it to a citizen science app or website. Around Australia, thousands of people contribute biodiversity data regularly through platforms like iNaturalist and NatureMapr.

Not only does your data get recorded in the app’s database, it also gets added to the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA), our open-access national biodiversity database.  

By combining citizen science data with professionally collected data, we can get the best of both worlds – a much richer picture of species’ distributions. There may be specific citizen science projects for your local area that you can participate in. A handy tool to search for projects is the Atlas of Living Australia’s Citizen Science Project Finder on BioCollect.

Bee enthusiastic about your native bees

Dr Juanita Rodriguez is a bee and wasp taxonomist at our Australian National Insect Collection. She says very few native bee species have been studied for their ability to pollinate crops.

"We do know native bees are useful pollinators of mango, avocado, apple, tomato, raspberry and macadamia," Juanita says.

"We need more young people to study taxonomy and think about a career with bees."

Tell your friends, tell your family, tell the children in your life. Bee aware of what’s happening in the wonderful world of bees. And whether you’re thinking about embarking on a new career or simply curious about your employment options, remember: bee taxonomy is the bee’s knees.

Our research into native bees

At the Australian National Insect Collection in Canberra, we hold more than 55,000 reference specimens of native bees collected across Australia. While many of these specimens have been expertly identified, others represent undescribed species.

Native Blue-banded bee specimens in the Australian National Insect Collection.

Using our insect collection as a resource, we are increasing our understanding of Australian bee biodiversity by scientifically naming and describing unknown native bee species. Beside this work, we are revising the taxonomy of existing groups of native bee species using state‑of-the-art molecular and morphological species delimitation methods.

We are also establishing a DNA reference library for all named Australian native bee species. This will facilitate reliable DNA sequence-based identification and aid in future species identification.

Our native bee biodiversity has far-reaching potential for food security and environmental resilience. Native bee research can bolster food security by revealing alternative pollinators and their potential roles in agriculture. We are developing a database characterising pollinator behaviour of native bees, that we plan to make publicly available. This may inform ways to extend growing seasons for fruits and vegetables, improve crop yields and quality, and provide pollination security for specialty crops.

Our research will also have broad environmental benefits by generating national scale biodiversity data on the ecosystem services provided by native bees.

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