American bumble bee could face extinction

Weather Blog

Close up of an American Bumblebee (Bombus pensylvanicus), a threatened native species. Garner, North Carolina

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The American bumble bee is an integral part of our ecosystem, providing essential pollination of native plants and farmed crops alike. Unfortunately, recent data shows that the bee population is dwindling in a big way, and scientists fear the worst if action to protect the species is not implemented soon.

Population loss by the numbers

A recent petition written by the Center for Biological Diversity and Bombus Pollinators Association of Law Students argues the American bumble bee be placed under the Endangered Species Act before the population is lost entirely.

Their research finds that in the last 20 years, the American bumble bee has disappeared from 8 states, down from the 47 states it once inhabited.

The American bumble bee has declined in abundance most notably in the Northeast, with New York recording a loss of 99%. The Midwest has seen a decline of over 90%, with Illinois seeing a relative loss of 44%. Nineteen states in the Southeast and Midwest have also recorded a loss of over 50%.

Reasons for population decline

The study points to multiple reasons for the decline of the American bumble bee, including:

  • Habitat loss
  • Pesticides
  • Disease
  • Climate change
  • Competition with honey bees
  • Loss of genetic diversity

IN-DEPTH: The research states that within the past 20 years, the states that have seen some of the largest declines of the American bumble bee “are the same states that have seen the largest quantified increase in pesticide use”.

Similar future to other endangered species?

With an overall loss in population of 89%, the American bumble bee aligns itself with the pattern of decline seen in the Rusty-Patched bumble bee and the Monarch butterfly. Both species, once a wide-ranging insect in the U.S., have seen similar population losses due to climate change, habitat loss, etc.

A decline of 90% across 27 states was seen in Rusty-Patched bumble bees, now condsidered “endangered” on the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s List of Endangered Species. Comparatively, the American bumble bee has declined 83% across a much larger area.

As of now, the Monarch butterfly is only a candidate for the Endangered Species List. The butterflies have seen a significant decrease in population due to the loss of milkweed plants in the Western U.S., but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded in December of 2020 that despite the species meeting the list criteria, they “must focus resources on higher-priority listing actions“.

Progress update

Last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildfire Service announced the findings on their preliminary 90-day review of the American bumble bee petition, concluding that the population loss warrants being put on the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. The agency is currently in a regulatory 12-month status review to further determine the treat.

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