The endangered-species list is about to get a brand-new member: Starting February 10, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced this week, the rusty patched bumblebee will officially be considered endangered.
The bee, known to scientists as Bombus affinis, is among the first of its kind to receive the designation — seven types of bees found only in Hawaii are also endangered, but never before has a bee from the contiguous U.S. made the list. In a report published earlier this year, scientists with the Fish and Wildlife Service calculated that the rusted-patch population has shrunk by roughly 90 percent over the past few decades, driven largely by climate change, pesticide use, and the human-driven loss of the plants that they rely on for food. The bees were once found in 28 states, Washington, D.C., and parts of Canada; today, their habitat encompasses just 13 states.
And as Discover magazine noted, that’s bad news for humans, too:
The bees habitat includes grasslands and prairies and they, along with other pollinators, play an important role in ensuring the health of the ecosystem. Pollinators help plants to reproduce and are an important resource for farmers, who rely on them to fertilize their crops. And, many of these pollinators live the same habitats and rely on the same resources as the rusty patched bumble bee.
Biologist Tamara Smith, one of the co-authors of the report, told Discover that the problem has been compounded by the fact that scientists just haven’t been paying attention — and by the time the research community caught on to what was happening, much of the damage had already been done. “The rusty patched bumble bee declined rapidly during a time when bumble bee monitoring was largely limited to a few researchers,” she said. “After the fact, researchers are just trying to piece together the most likely causes and to set up studies to help them verify their hypotheses.” No wonder the bees are so stressed out.