Seven different types of bees native to Hawaii have now been added to the endangered species list. This is the first time bees have been placed on this list. They are now to be protected under the rules of the Endangered Species Act. “These are the first bees to be federally protected under the act, so in a way this is a threshold moment,” said Xerces Society‘s Matthew Shepherd. The conservation group first petitioned the federal government to protect yellow-faced bees in 2009. The seven bee species are among the 60 types of bees in the genus Hylaeus. The bees are named “yellow-faced” for the golden mark between the males’ eyes.
Many people forget that bees are a crucial part of the food industry. Close to seventy percent of crops that are used today require pollination to develop fruits, nuts, and seeds. It is estimated that those crops account for one trillion dollars in annual sales of agriculture products around the globe. Examples of common crops depending on bee pollination include broccoli, blueberry, cherry, apple, and cucumbers. It is the opinion of experts that the eradication of bees would cause a massive ecological disaster.
While the change only protects the yellow-faced bees, the global bee population has declined rapidly in recent years due to habitat loss, non-native bee populations, competing invasive species, pesticides, wildfires, and loss of genetic diversity. Fifty-nine insect species are known to have vanished in our modern time, however, thousands are estimated to have disappeared. In the United States, 160 insect species are presumed to be extinct or missing.
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s ruling does not designate any “critical habitats,” a move that requires federal agencies to protect important characteristics of the designated areas. The government also has not yet developed a “recovery plan” for how the agency will manage and protect the yellow-faced bees.
Despite the mounting threats, 11 new native species have been found in Hawaii in the last 15 years. Six of those species were from Oahu, the island most heavily impacted by development, Karl Magnacca, a senior researcher at the University of Hawaii, said in a fact sheet.
The rule, which goes into effect at the end of the month, also gives the endangered designation to 39 plant species found on the islands and to three other creatures native to Hawaii — the band-rumped storm-petrel Oceanodroma castro, the orangeblack Hawaiian damselfly Megalagrion xanthomelas, and the anchialine pool shrimp Procaris hawaiana.