The nalo meli 'āpa'akuma project | nalo meli ʻāpaʻakuma translates from ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi to English as endemic bee. Hawaiʻi is home to >60 nalo meli ʻāpaʻakuma - bees found no where else on the planet. All endemic Hawaiian bees are in the genus Hylaeus found in the bee family Colletidae. Since 2016, seven Hylaeus bees, including the focal species of this current study, Hylaeus anthracinus, have been listed as "Endangered" under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. In the nalo meli ʻāpaʻakuma project, I will be sequencing the genome of Hylaeus anthracinus to develop a genome-guided framework for conservation and management.
About Bees | Wild bees are significant pollinators, playing a key role in maintaining terrestrial ecosystems. However, because bees depend on flowering plants to sustain their diets and rear offspring, they are vulnerable to habitat degradation, disease, and climate change. In Hawai‘i, seven endemic species in the genus Hylaeus are threatened with displacement and extinction due to tourism development, urbanization, invasive species, and agricultural intensification. In response to these threats, the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources has implemented a recovery action for some Hylaeus protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
The recovery action includes a strategy to breed populations in situ, and translocate species to habitats where they are locally extinct. While these actions are well-informed, there is a critical need to enhance conservation and management decisions through a study of genetic diversity using genomic tools. In the absence of such knowledge, Hawaiian Hylaeus conservation will be limited to estimates of population size based on demographic monitoring, rather than a targeted approach that manages genetic diversity to promote sustainable populations.
The goal of the nalo meli ʻāpaʻakuma project (endemic bee project) is to develop a genomic resource and population genomic data to:
- Monitor Hylaeus populations
- Characterize genetic diversity
- Identify regions of the genome under strong selective pressures due to population decline.
News | Read about the nalo meli ʻāpaʻakuma project on UH Hilo Stories, University of Hawaii News, Big Island Now, Hawaii Herald Tribune, and The Society of Conservation Biology.
Related Research | You may also read a scientific paper I published in Pacific Science with Heather Sahli entitled Patterns of flower visitation across elevation and successional gradients in Hawaiʻi. In this study, we examined visitation by insects and birds to a diversity of native plants in Hawaiʻi on the eastern flank of Mauna Loa Volcano. We found that Hylaeus bees account for 64-91% of the total number of visitors to native flowering plants, and may therefore be important pollinators of some of the plant species in our study, including ʻōʻhia (Metrosideros polymorpha).
Outreach | Finally, check out a 3 minute YouTube video that I collaborated on with Ethel Villalobos (UH Mānoa) and Jonathan Wright (Hazard Design), The Odd Couples, which highlights the natural history and value of bees on our planet.