The rusty-patched bumblebee has officially been listed as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, making it the first bee in the continental United States to be put on the list.
Once common across the U.S., the bee’s numbers have dropped almost 90 percent since the start of the 1990’s. It once populated 28 states but is now found only in a few select areas around the country. This decline is the result of numerous factors, including climate change, pesticide exposure, habitat loss, and disease.
The new ruling is significant because the rusty-patched bee is the first bee from the lower 48 states to be added to the register. While seven bees have been listed as endangered in the past, they are all in Hawaii and are not bumblebees.
“Pollinators are small but mighty parts of the natural mechanism that sustains us and our world,” said Tom Melius, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Midwest regional director, according to The New York Times. “Without them, our forests, parks, meadows and shrublands, and the abundant, vibrant life they support, cannot survive, and our crops require laborious, costly pollination by hand.”
This new classification will spur efforts to protect both the bees and their habitats while also seeking to reduce the threats that are killing them.
Researchers hope measures used to protect the rusty-patched bumblebee could also be used to help other pollinators — such as the monarch butterflies and honeybees. Many pollinator populations are dropping around the world, which could harm both biodiversity and global food supply. In fact, a study conducted last year by researchers associated with the United Nations stated that numerous species that aid crop growth face extinction.
“Protecting the rusty-patched bumblebee and all bees is essential for our ecosystem and our food supply,” said Christy Leavitt from Environment America, according to USA Today. “If bees go extinct, it’s simple: no bees, no food.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing Franklin’s bumblebee, the western bumblebee, and the yellow-banded bumblebee to see if they also should be listed as endangered.