Hawaii bees added to the endangered species list

A honeybee resting on a finger of a Olympia Beekeepers Association beekeeper. CREDIT: AP/Ted S. Warren
A honeybee resting on a finger of a Olympia Beekeepers Association beekeeper. CREDIT: AP/Ted S. Warren

Another example that the world’s most famous pollinators need help.

In a first for the United States, a group of bee species were added to the federal endangered species list Friday night. The move puts seven Hawaii bee species under federal protection, which means critical habitat will be designated for the species’ conservation.

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) said the group of yellow-faced bee species now under protection, as well as some 39 plant species added to the list, were suffering population declines due to various factors, including habitat loss linked to urbanization, man-made pollution, wildfires, and invasion of nonnative plants and insects. Adding these insects and plants to the endangered species list also allows authorities to create recovery programs and get protection funding.

A number of yellow-faced bee endemic to the Hawaiian Islands have been threatened for years. Yellow-faced bees are important pollinators of Hawaiian plants, according to the Xerces Society, a group involved in petitions calling for bee protection. The group says the decline of these bees might lead to the loss of native plants, too.

Pollinators, such as most bees, play a major role in the production of most fruits and vegetables. Over the past few years researchers have documented dramatic declines in bee populations across the country. Without the assistance of pollinators, most plants cannot produce fruits and seeds, according to the FWS.

In the United States, honey bees pollination contributed to over $19 billion of crops in 2010. Pollination by other insect pollinators contributed to nearly $10 billion of crops in 2010.

Yet it an annual report on total losses of managed honeybees, which are those kept by beekeepers, show that populations are massively declining. The survey, which asked beekeepers about bee losses between April 2015 and April 2016, found that U.S. beekeepers lost 44 percent of their colonies in a year. That means that total losses worsened compared to last year’s survey, which reported losses of 42.1 percent.

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Pesticides have long been considered one of the contributing factors in bees’ decline. Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency released its first findings on neonicotinoids, a widely-used class of pesticide that’s been found to affect bees’ brains.

The EPA is now studying four neonic pesticides, to understand how these chemicals impact bees. Its first study was on imidacloprid, and it found that the pesticide is harmful to bees in high enough concentrations. Since concentrations differ from crop to crop, the agency found that some crops, like like cotton and citrus, were harmful to bees, but others, like like corn and berries, weren’t.

One in five animal and plant species in the United States — nearly 1,300 total species — are at risk of extinction.