For the first time, bumblebees have officially been declared endangered. The disappearing rusty patched bumble bee now remains in just 13 states, down from 28. Causes of the decline of bumblebee populations are believed to be loss of habitat due to urbanization and agriculture, disease and parasites, the use of pesticides that directly or indirectly kill bees, and climate change which is affecting availability of flowers they depend on.
How do pesticides harm the bees?
Honey bees collect nectar and pollen and carry it to their hives to provide food for their colony throughout the winter. When pesticides are applied to crops, the pollen and nectar carried back to the hive becomes contaminated. As a result, pesticides applied to crops or lawns one season can affect the health of the bees the following winter when they are consuming the contaminated honey and pollen.
A recent study found the pollen bees collected in agricultural fields and brought back to their hives was contaminated with 35 different pesticides. Pesticide-contaminated pollen also reduces the ability of healthy bees to fend off parasites that cause them to starve to death.
Many studies have found that insecticides and fungicides harm bees. Nearly all field corn and soybeans planted in the Midwest are treated with neonicotinoids, along with a mixture of fungicides (chlorothalonil and pyraclostrobin) which can disrupt their nervous systems causing them to forage less and produce fewer offspring.
Since the late 1990s, the population of the species has plummeted by a staggering 90%. In response to the dramatic population decline over the past 20 years, the US Fish & Wildlife Service has officially placed the rusty patched bumblebee on the Endangered Species List.
Why is this important?
Pollinators are small but mighty parts of the natural mechanism that sustains us and our world. Without them, our farms, gardens, parks, forests and the abundant life they support, cannot survive.
Pollinators like the rusty patched bumble bee also play an essential role in maintaining the food supply, with bees in the US pollinating more than 90 commercial crops including fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Protecting the bees is not only essential for our ecosystems, but for our entire food supply.
If bees go extinct, it’s simple: no bees = no food!
The Endangered Species Act has protected more than 1,000 species since it became law in 1973 in efforts to ground a cornerstone of science that says the healthiest, most stable natural systems tend to be those with high levels of biodiversity. Granting federal protection is the best — and probably last — hope for the recovery of the rusty patched bumblebee.
Britt Ricci - Northern Wisconsin - https://wiwolvesandwildlife.org/
Graduate of geography and environmental studies from UW-Madison with a focus in predator-human relationships.