Native bees and taxonomy with Dr Kit Prendergast (#34)


We talk about Australian native bees, bee conservation, and biological taxonomy.

Dr Kit Prendergast, also known as The Bee Babette, is a native bee scientist and science communicator. Her research focuses on discovering the biodiversity of native bees and identifying the factors that influence their abundance, diversity, and distribution, so that we can have an evidence-based understanding of their ecologies to better conserve our indigenous bees. Her research has also involved investigating the controversial topic of competition with the introduced European honeybee Apis mellifera. She loves getting out in nature and spending her days among the flowers seeking buzzy bees! In addition to her ‘hard core’ sciencing, the Bee Babette also is passionate about scicomm, and regularly gives presentations to local communities and schools about native bees and how we can all make a difference to their conservation. She is the author of ‘Creating a Haven for Native Bees’ and ‘Abuzz About Dawson’s Burrowing Bee’, the latter about her research on her favourite bee, Amegilla dawsoni, which she has a tattoo of a pair having sex on her shoulder. Kit was a Famelab Finalist and a Young Scientist of the Year Finalist in 2019.

In our conversation, we talk about Australian native bees, bee conservation, and biological taxonomy.

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Dr Kit Prendergast’s Books

  • Creating a Haven for Native Bees (facebook)
  • A Crash-Course to Australian Bee Taxonomy & Identifications (tweet)
  • Abuzz About Dawson’s Burrowing Bee (tweet)

If you are interested in these resources, contact Kit via email for more information.

Show Notes

[00:00:56] What drew Kit to zoology?
[00:00:58] Kit’s love of animals.
[00:01:21] Sneaking animals into the home.
[00:01:55] A love of science and the arts.
[00:02:47] Taking Cultural Studies in university.
[00:03:40] Finding her way to bees.
[00:04:34] Wanting to pursue an academic path after doing an Honours degree on horses.
[00:05:08] Designing a PhD project.
[00:05:32] Discovering the diverse range of bees at a talk.
[00:05:53] Thinking about the biodiversity of south-western Australia and the impact of urbanisation.
[00:06:58] The state of research in the area of bee species competition.
[00:07:48] Honey bees as an introduced species.
[00:08:49] Looking into the impact of honey bees on the native bee population.
[00:09:10] What is the actual impact of the ‘save the bees’ movement on native bees?
[00:10:25] The plant needs of the different species.
[00:11:37] Habitat and other needs that need to be considered.
[00:13:00] The approach we should take for urban conservation efforts that support native bees as well.
[00:13:12] Locally actionable activities for native bee support.
[00:14:24] Broader scope of agricultural and global/climate activities.
[00:15:38] Looking to the needs of your own native species irrespective of where you are in the world.
[00:17:30] “Postcode Honey”
[00:18:01] The native Australian bees that produce honey.
[00:18:52] Honey classification standards and the honey produced by Australian native bees.
[00:20:45] Kit’s work in science communication.
[00:22:20] The joy of sharing her science with kids.
[00:22:41] Changing their perceptions of scientists.
[00:23:58] Kit’s facebook group “Bees in the Burbs” for community outreach.
[00:24:27] What Kit is working on now, post PhD.
[00:24:31] Continuing the work from her PhD.
[00:25:24] Land surveys around the state.
[00:25:49] Studying bee behaviour and cognition.
[00:27:51] Interesting findings from Kit’s research so far.
[00:27:56] More plant species doesn’t necessarily mean more bees.
[00:28:55] Novel bee behaviours.
[00:29:11] Bee nesting behaviours.
[00:30:36] Unexpected ‘alternative mating tactics’ in bees.
[00:32:26] More on bee nesting habits.
[00:33:13] The taxonomy of bees and the gaps in our scientific knowledge.
[00:34:35] How undescribed species are documented.
[00:36:45] Species which are undescribed are a common knowledge issue across the field, especially with insects.
[00:37:55] Kit’s collection of undescribed bees.
[00:38:35] How undescribed species are found by other researchers.
[00:39:44] The collecting of specimens for conservation purposes.
[00:40:59] Science is not an individual endeavour. All work contributes to the future.
[00:41:31] Kit’s collections will be added to the WA Museum.
[00:41:49] Databasing is important to the field, but there’s no funding.
[00:43:06] Bonus Question 1: What hobby or interest do you have that is most unrelated to your field of work?
[00:43:11] Kit’s love of gymnastics and circus.
[00:44:02] The lack of options for adult gymnastics.
[00:45:12] Spun Out Festival.
[00:46:01] Bonus Question 2: Which childhood book holds the strongest memories for you?
[00:47:28] Bonus Question 3: What advice you would give someone who wants to do what you do? Or what advice should they ignore?
[00:49:39] Finding out more about Kit’s work.

Topics/Resources/People Mentioned


  • Deltora Quest by Emily Rodda BookDepository GoodReads

Additional Resources

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