I'm Kit Prendergast, aka the Bee Babette, a PhD researcher dedicated to improving the plight of our native bees in the 'burbs! I've embarked on a journey as a postgrad at Curtin University where I'm seeking to answer some key questions about our precious native pollinators and how we – you, me, communities, governments – can ensure that our native bees can thrive in cities – where the majority of people live, work and play. I am fascinated by the diversity of native bees and seek to discover how we can make sure native bees are protected under increasing urbanisation.
Since beginning my PhD, I have learnt that there are about 2,000 native bees in Australia, and in my surveys, I've discovered over 200 species in and around Perth, many of which are yet to be described. I've also learnt that the introduced European honeybee that dominates the mass media is in no way threatened – honeybees are doing fine. It's our native bees that are likely at risk of decline, yet few people are aware that there are bees other than honeybees, and most people have no idea (or the wrong idea) about how to support native bees.
The fact is, our native bees are different from honeybees in terms of their biology, ecology and life-history. My research thus far has indicated that factors which influence where healthy and diverse native bee assemblages occur are different from those which influence honeybees. This means that often-touted "save the bees" strategies fall short of helping native bees. For example, honeybees are super-generalists that forage on and benefit from a wide range of flowering species. My research has found that, contrary to conventional opinion, advice for "saving" bees (meaning honeybees) by increasing the diversity of flowering plant species is actually bad for native bees; instead, large patches of highly bee-attractive native plants are key to supporting native bees.
Hosting hives also isn't going to help out any of our native bees. Instead, we need to provide native bees with nesting substrates to enhance their reproduction. To address this, I've been looking into factors that affect the use of bee hotels – artificial nesting blocks with suitably small holes in which t cavity-nesting bees can nest.
Using my skills as a scientist, it is my goal to determine how to best protect and preserve diverse and abundant native bee assemblages in the suburbs. To share my passion for native bees and communicate my findings to members of the public, I have created a Facebook group "Bees in the 'burbs in a biodiversity hotspot" that showcases our native bees through photos, raises their public profile, and where I provide identifications of native bees for members of the community, and provide evidence-based ways to support native bees.
I have also written a popular booklet describing how to make effectively-designed bee hotels for solitary bees which includes a list of "bee-friendly" plants.
- Kit Prendergast, finalist for 2019 PostgradAustralia Scholarship #PGAScholarship