AN exotic ground-dwelling bee, found by accident in the Upper Hunter, may become a serious environmental threat, according to Australian Museum ecologist John Gollan.
Dr Gollan and 35 volunteers will begin a trapping program in October to determine how widely the emerald furrow bee has spread.
The program will also enable the bee's genetic make-up to be checked to establish exactly where in the world it comes from so the Australian customs and quarantine services can be alerted to increase screening procedures.
Emerald furrow bees compete with native species for food and nesting sites, may introduce parasites and pathogens to native species, could alter native plant seed setting times and increase the spread of weeds, Dr Gollan said.
He said the threat of exotic pests, such as cane toads, foxes and pigs was widely known throughout Australia, while introduced bees had received disproportionately little attention and were generally perceived to be beneficial for their role in pollinating crops.
Dr Gollan accidentally found emerald furrow bees around Singleton and Scone while doing research on ants, flies and other insects in 2004.
Specimens were given to a Sydney bee expert who eventually had colleagues in Austria confirm the species and its origin in the Mediterranean, between Portugal and the Middle East.
They are thought to have arrived in Australia in soil.