Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Could Putting a Bumble Bee on the Endangered List Save It?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Could Putting a Bumble Bee on the Endangered List Save It?

Article excerpt

The past several years have not been kind to the humble bee.

But perhaps none suffer more than the rusty patched bumble bee, or Bombus affinis, a fuzzy insect with a rust-colored patch on its abdomen. The bee used to be a common sight across the Midwestern United States, but now, the bee struggles to survive in a habitat broken apart by increased farming and commercial development.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is proposing to list the bee as endangered, which would grant it significant protections and hopefully save the bee from extinction.

The rusty patch has seen its population drop by 91 percent since the late 1990s, according to FWS. And the decline could be even worse than that, since many of the populations measured have not been reconfirmed since the early 2000s.

The rusty patch, like all species of bumble bee, plays an important role as a plant pollinator. Without pollinating insects, the entire ecosystem would be thrown out of balance, since many animals depend on pollinated plants as a food source. While plenty of pollinators have been on the decline for years, the rusty patch would be the first bee in the continental US to receive protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The rusty patch used to be commonly found in 31 states as recently as the 1990s, but now its range has shrunk to only a few populations in 12 states and Ontario. According to the proposal issued by FWS, the bee faces dire threats in the form of its increasingly fragmented habitats because of human development where the bees used to thrive. The spread of insecticides and herbicides through ever larger farms physically affect the bees as well kill off the flowers that the bees need to survive. Climate change and diseases also contribute to the bees' decline.

"Endangered Species Act safeguards are now the only way the bumble bee would have a fighting chance for survival," Sarina Jepsen, of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, told Reuters. …

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