America has placed a bumblebee on the endangered species list for the first time in a “race against extinction”.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service today placed the rusty patched bumblebee on the list because of a dramatic population decline over the past 20 years. Since the late 1990s, the population of the species has plummeted 87%.
Named because of the rust-colored marks on its back, the bee was once common across 28 states from Connecticut to South Dakota. Today, it is found only in small, scattered populations in 13 states.
Wildlife service regional director Tom Melius said: “Listing the bee as endangered will help us mobilise partners and focus resources on finding ways right now to stop the decline.”
Bees are responsible for pollinating most of the plants that require insect pollination to produce fruits, seeds and nuts. Like other bees, rusty patched bumblebees pollinate important crops such as tomatoes, cranberries and peppers.
It’s not just the rusty patched bumblebee that is struggling in the US, Europe and around the world. Other species have experienced dramatic declines in recent decades. The reduction is believed to be caused by a combination of habitat loss, disease, pesticide use, climate change and an extremely small population size.
Environment America’s Christy Leavitt said: “Protecting the rusty patched bumblebee and all bees is essential for our ecosystem and our food supply. If bees go extinct, it’s simple: no bees, no food.”
While this is the first bee on the American mainland to be placed on the list, the Obama administration designated seven species of bees in Hawaii as endangered in September.
WHAT’S THE BUZZ IN NZ, AUSTRALIA?
Lincoln University has released a study that says New Zealand agriculture stands to lose between $295m and $728m a year if the local honeybee population continues to decline.
Professor Stephen Wratten said it was well known that a global decline in populations of insect pollinators posed a major threat to food and nutritional security.
“We’ve lost most of our wild bees in New Zealand to varroa mite, and cultivated bees are becoming resistant to varroa pesticides. Functioning beehives are becoming increasingly expensive for farmers to rent. We know the decline in bee populations is going to have a major impact on our economy, but we wanted to measure the impact.”
But Apiculture NZ chief executive Daniel Paul said the industry’s “bee loss survey” showed populations were healthy.
“We don’t want to give the impression that bee populations are under threat. They are not under any sort of near-term threat as far as we can see.
“We have to deal with varroa obviously, but we’ve been dealing with varroa for over 12 years now and New Zealand beekeepers are very vigilant at dealing with it.”
There were nearly 700,000 hives in New Zealand, up from 300,000 15 years ago.
“There are close to 7000 beekeepers in New Zealand and that number continues to grow each year.”
Australia’s honey bee industry numbers about 12,000 registered beekeepers. Around 1700 of these are commercial apiarists, each with more than 50 hives, and there are thousands of part-time and hobby beekeepers.
The honey and bee products industry is worth approximately $90m a year.
Honeybee pollination is estimated to contribute between $620m and $1730m a year to agricultural production.
Australia is one of the few countries in the world to remain free of varroa mite. If it arrived, the healthy population of feral honeybees, and the pollination services they provide, could be reduced by 90-100 per cent.