The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has added the first bumblebee species to the endangered list on Tuesday.
This comes after the agency placed seven species of Hawaiian bees, including the yellow-faced bee (Hylaeus anthracinus) on list back in September.
The rusty patched bumblebee, Bombus affinis, originally had high population numbers along the East Coast and the Midwest in the 1990s, but since then colonies have dropped about 87 percent.
Its range has dwindled from 28 states, the District of Columbia and two Canadian provinces to 13 states with scattered populations in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin and the province of Ontario.
There is no one specific culprit for this disappearance but rather a multitude of factors that have driven the species to the dangerous brink of extinction.
From habitat loss to climate change to pesticides to disease all have played a part in the recent decline. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation has previously suggested that viruses have been spread from commercially raised bumblebees to those in the wild and also blames long-lasting insecticides.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service has relied upon the best available science and we welcome this decision,” Rich Hatfield, the society’s senior conservation biologist, told ABC News. “Addressing the threats that the rusty patched bumblebee faces will not only help this species, but countless other native pollinators that are so critical to the functioning of natural ecosystems and agriculture.”
Bumblebees are important pollinators, especially for crops of blueberries, cranberries, clover and tomatoes. They are more effective than honeybees for some crops because of their ability to “buzz pollinate.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that economic value of pollination services provided by native insects is $3 billion per year in the United States.
Now that the rusty patched bumblebee is listed as an endangered species its habitat is protected from significant modification or degradation that would lead to more species deaths.
Individuals are encouraged to plant pollinator-friendly gardens, including native plants and flowering trees and shrubs. They are also advised to limit their usage of pesticides and provide natural areas that are left uncut for overwintering bees.
According to senior attorney Rebecca Riley with the Natural Resources Defense Council, listing the bee is the “best – and probably last – hope” for its survival.