(Beyond Pesticides, March 13, 2017) Nearly 1 in 4 species of native bee is imperiled and at increasing risk of extinction. This, according to a new report from the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), released earlier this month. The report is the first comprehensive review of the more than 4,000 native bee species in North America and Hawaii, and finds that more than half the species assessed are declining. With native bee decline increasing, advocates say it is imperative that action be taken to reduce toxic pesticide use and restore native habitats lost to chemical-intensive agriculture, urbanization, and climate change.
The new analysis, Pollinators in Peril: A systematic status review of North American and Hawaiian native bees, reveals that more than 700 species are in trouble from a range of serious threats, including severe habitat loss and escalating pesticide use. Key findings include: (1) among native bee species with sufficient data to assess (1,437), more than half (749) are declining; (2) nearly 1 in 4 (347 native bee species) is imperiled and at increasing risk of extinction; (3) many of the bee species lacking sufficient data are also likely declining or at risk of extinction, highlighting the urgent need for additional research; and, (4) the declines are caused primarily by habitat loss, heavy pesticide use, climate change and urbanization.
These findings come as a growing body of research has revealed that more than 40 percent of insect pollinators are highly threatened globally, including many of the native bees critical to crop and wildflower pollination across the U.S. Many studies link pesticide use to these declines. Pesticides, like the neonicotinoid insecticides, have been shown to impair bee foraging and learning behavior, reproduction, and suppress bee immune systems making them more susceptible to disease and parasites. See ‘What the Science Shows.’
“The evidence is overwhelming that hundreds of the native bees we depend on for ecosystem stability, as well as pollination services worth billions of dollars, are spiraling toward extinction,” said Kelsey Kopec, a native pollinator researcher and author of the study. “It’s a quiet but staggering crisis unfolding right under our noses that illuminates the unacceptably high cost of our careless addiction to pesticides and monoculture farming.”
Honey bee decline has been much discussed in recent years. Last winter (2015/2016), beekeepers lost 44 percent of their honey bee colonies. But, until now, much less has been revealed about the 4,337 native bee species in North America and Hawaii. These mostly solitary, ground-nesting bees play a crucial ecological role by pollinating wild plants, and provide more than $3 billion in fruit-pollination services each year in the U.S. To assess current populationstopped trends and threats as comprehensibly as possible for the 4,337 described species of North American and Hawaiian bees, the CBD report reviewed the current conservation status of 316 species as established by state, federal, or independent research.
The report highlights five imperiled native bees that offer a snapshot of the threats driving declines in many native bee species:
- Yellow carpet solitary bee: This dark, olive-green bee, whose fate is intertwined with its floral host and California’s dwindling vernal pools, is severely threatened with extinction.
- Sunflower leafcutting bee: This spectacularly large bee used to be seen patrolling sunflower stands throughout the Great Plains; it is now in steep decline and rarely seen.
- Wild sweet potato bee: Known for its unique three-lobed snout, this bee, once commonly seen foraging across much of the East, is now dangerously imperiled.
- Gulf Coast solitary bee: Completely dependent on the disappearing coastal plain honeycombhead plant and the barrier-island sand dunes where it nests, this bee is now found only within a shrinking portion of its range along the Gulf Coast.
- Macropis cuckoo bee: This nest invader, which takes over the nests of other bee species to lay its eggs, was once common across much of central and eastern North America but is now considered that region’s most endangered bee.
Earlier this year, the Rusty Patched Bumblebee became the first bumblebee federally designated as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The Rusty Patched Bumblebee was once widespread throughout the U.S. and parts of Canada, but declined dramatically over the last couple decades. Now their populations are estimated to be less than 10% of what they once were. But, the Trump administration in February reversed the final decision, pending further review, for this listing. In response, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a lawsuit charging the administration violated the notice and comment requirements of public rulemaking for the delay on the bumblebee listing.
With the decline of both native and managed bees, Beyond Pesticides is working to promote the widespread transition of conventional farmland to organic production. Organic law requires farmers to foster soil health, and create a strategy to prevent pest populations before they become a problem. Because of these factors, many certified organic farms do not need to use toxic pesticides because their required organic systems plan practices increase soil and plant health and pest and disease resiliency through an increased diversity of pest predators.
With one in three bites of food reliant on bees, other insects, and birds for pollination, the decline in pollinators due to pesticides, and other human-made causes, demands immediate action. For more on this and what you can do to protect pollinators, visit Beyond Pesticides’ BEE Protective webpage.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.
Source: CBD press release and report