Bees ruled as endangered for first time in US

Hylaeus assimulans is one of  seven species of yellow-faced bee to be placed on the endangered species list(Credit: Matthew Shepherd/The Xerces Society)

Bees around the world face a real challenge to sustain their populations in the face of threats such as habitat loss and pesticides. Hawaiian yellow-faced bees are no different, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has now moved to protect the insects by placing seven species on the endangered list, a first for any type of bee in the US.

The listing of the yellow-faced bee species follows years of work by the Xerces Society, a nonprofit dedicated to conserving wildlife with a particular focus on invertebrates. In 2009, the society first submitted petitions to the USFWS pushing for the protection of seven species of the genus Hylaeus, which are native to Hawaii and are threatened by habitat loss due to land development, the introduction of non-native plant and animal species, and climate change.

One year ago, the USFWS proposed that those seven – the Hylaeus anthracinus, H. assimulans, H. facilis, H. hilaris, H. kuakea, H. longiceps, and H. mana – be classed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act and that recommendation has now been finalized, placing them under federal protection.

While this would normally afford the insects designated critical habitats so their numbers can rebound, the USFSW says it requires further investigation before those spaces can be allocated and finds "designation of critical habitat to be 'not determinable' at this time."

When we sit down to eat dinner at night, there is a good chance bees have contributed to the food on our plates, whether by pollinating the vegetables and fruits that we ourselves are eating or those eaten by the animals we consume, so dwindling populations could have profound consequences. But with honeybee numbers in dramatic decline, the US federal government last year revealed its first-ever national strategy to boost their numbers, so it's possible that Hawaii's Hylaeus species may be joined by a few friends under federal protection before too long.

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