Israeli researchers find a new bee species, amid worries about declining swarms

Little known about Lasioglossum dorchini, found in Alexander Stream National Park during research into best ways of rehabilitating habitats stunted by planted eucalyptus trees

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

A bee sits on an iris flower near the town of  Zichron Yaakov in northern Israel, February 4, 2017. (Nati Shohat/FLASH90)
A bee sits on an iris flower near the town of Zichron Yaakov in northern Israel, February 4, 2017. (Nati Shohat/FLASH90)

Researchers studying the effect of eucalyptus trees on ecosystems in Israel have found and identified a new species of bee, amid concern over damage wreaked on wild populations due to habitat destruction and other causes.

Little is known yet about the new species, named Lasioglossum dorchini, but researchers plan to study it to learn about its lifestyle and habits, said Hebrew University entomologist Yael Mandelik.

It was found by accident by PhD student Karmit Levy at the Alexander Stream National Park at Bet Yannai Beach, north of Netanya.

“It seems to be endemic to this kind of coastal environment, especially around the Alexander Stream, ” Mandelik said. “At this stage, we don’t know much more.”

The species was identified and described by Alain Pauly, a taxonomist (classifier of species) from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels. It’s name is in honor of Achik Dorchin, who curates the national bee collection at Tel Aviv University’s Steinhardt Museum of Natural History.

Lasioglossum dorchini. (Courtesy Alain Pauly, Belgian Journal of Entomology)

Israel, located at the junction of Asia, Africa and Europe, with habitats ranging from desert to Mediterranean scrub, is home to around 1,100 species of bees, out of around 20,000 known on earth.

Yael Mandelik of the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment’s Entomology Department. (Courtesy Hebrew University)

However, there has never been any long-term monitoring of bee populations, meaning it’s unclear if the country is experiencing the same type of wild bee decline seen in the US and Europe.

Mandelik told the Times of Israel that it’s likely local wild bee populations have declined as they too are subject to the harmful effects decimating populations elsewhere: habitat destruction, pollution, pesticides and pathogens

Wild bees pollinate nearly 90% of the world’s wild flowering plant species, and complement the work of honeybees, which pollinate more than 75% of the world’s food crops and 35% of global agricultural land.

Lasioglossum dorchini. (Courtesy Alain Pauly, Belgian Journal of Entomology)

Israel, however, is fortunate not to have suffered widespread colony collapse disorder which has decimated hives in parts of Europe and the US.

The new species of wild bee was discovered at a plot of land where the Israel Nature and Parks Authority is researching the impact of eucalyptus stands on coastal sand ecosystems with a view to working out how best to bring wild flora and fauna back.

Eucalyptus trees, which are native to Australia, were first planted in Israel to help drain the fledgling country’s swamps and are ubiquitous today.

But in addition to changing open habitats by creating shade, they are also allelopathic, meaning they secrete biochemicals that prevent competing plants from growing nearby.

Eucalyptus trees in the Negev desert (Illustrative photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Eucalyptus trees in the Negev desert, southern Israel. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Five years ago, the INPA and Tel Aviv University PhD student Aviv Avisar established different research plots — a control plot featuring existing eucalyptus trees, a plot with wild vegetation that had never seen a eucalyptus tree, a plot where the trees were removed and wildflowers planted and seeds sown, and a plot where the trees were removed and nature was allowed to run its course.

Both plots where the trees were removed have almost caught up with the plot where there were never any eucalyptus trees growing, according to Mandelik, who has concentrated with Levy on how bees and other pollinators have responded to them.

Wildflowers growing on a research plot where eucalyptus trees have never grown, in the Alexander Stream National Park. (Courtesy, Karmit Levy)
Flowers return to a plot from which eucalyptus trees and topsoil have been removed and new wild plants and seeds introduced. (Courtesy, Karmit Levy)

“We’re looking at the ecological costs and benefits of different treatments as they affect attracting bees,” Mandelik explained, noting that five years in ecology is a short time.

The research has shown that wild bees appear to stay away from the control plot where the eucalyptus trees remain. However, it is buzzing with domesticated honeybees, who are drawn to its nectar.

Both beekeepers and the Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) continue to favor planting eucalyptus trees. Other than being attractive to honeybees, they are quick growing and help to bind unstable soil.

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