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Australian bees are struggling to bounce back from wildfires

The public is becoming increasingly aware of the impact that climate change is having on endangered species and their habitats. However, many people do not realize that one of the biggest contributing factors to this conundrum is wildfires, caused by increasing global temperatures.

A key example of this is the Australian native bee family. New research from Flinders University suggests that the number of endangered Australian bee species will rise fivefold after the Black Summer bushfires of 2019-20.

The researchers studied 553 species to assess the long-term damage of the natural disaster. They found that the wildfire, which burned over 24 million hectares of Australian land, had a destructive impact on the habitats of bees, insects, and invertebrates.

“Our research is a call for action, from governments and policymakers, to immediately help these and other native populations most in danger,” stated James Dorey, lead author of the study. 

Nine species of Australian bees were assessed as vulnerable, and two were classified as endangered. “In these circumstances, there is a need for government and land managers to respond more rapidly to implement priority conservation management actions for the most-affected species in order to help prevent extinctions,” explained Mr. Dorey.

In addition to highlighting the destruction caused by the natural disaster, the study aimed to provide an assessment foundation for other taxa across the globe in order to help conserve species that have not been registered or widely studied by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN Red List).

“Climate change is increasing the frequency of natural disasters like wildfire, which impacts our wildlife,” reiterated co-author Dr Stefan Caddy-Retalic. However, the researcher remained optimistic, explaining that the “study shows that we can assess the likely impact of natural disasters on poorly studied species, even when we can’t physically visit the field to do surveys.”

Native bees and their pollination cycles are essential to the ecosystem, but awareness of them is not high. The team believes that contributing to the IUCN Red List will be essential in lobbying governments to take action.

“Most people aren’t aware of just how vulnerable our native bees are because they are not widely studied,” said study co-author Olivia Davies. “The fact that no Australian bees are listed by the IUCN shows just how neglected these important species are.”

Ultimately, the researchers hope that their data collection model can be used by other academics to further understand the impact of natural disasters on key species and their ecosystems. “Being able to collect targeted data will always be the gold standard but we shouldn’t let data gaps stop us from acting to protect species we know are vulnerable,” concluded Dr. Dorey.

The research is published in the journal Global Change Biology.

By Calum Vaughan, Staff Writer

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