Hawaii’s native yellow-faced bees have become the first bees in the U.S. to be protected under the Endangered Species Act.
By Shreya Dasgupta
Hylaeus bees are important pollinators for various native plants in Hawaii. (Photo: Forest and Kim Starr/Wikimedia Commons)
In a positive move for bees, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has added seven species of yellow-faced bees in Hawaii to the endangered species list.
These are the “first bees in the country to be protected under the Endangered Species Act,” according to the Xerces Society, a non-profit organization that petitioned the Food and Wildlife Service in 2009 to protect the bees. This decision follows the proposed listing of the rusty patched bumble bee — a once-common species endemic to North America that has faced a drastic decline in number.
The seven species — Hylaeus anthracinus, H. assimulans, H. facilis, H. hilaris, H. kuakea, H. longiceps, and H. mana — are native only to Hawaii and inhabit diverse habitats such as coasts, dry forests, and subalpine shrublands. These bees pollinate a variety of native plant species, including some of Hawaii’s most endangered plant species, which could become extinct if the bees were wiped out.
However, like many other wild bees in North America that are on the decline, Hawaiian yellow-faced bee numbers are dwindling. Their habitats are rapidly disappearing due to developmental activities along the coasts, fire, the loss of native vegetation to invasive plant species, as well grazing by feral ungulates such as pigs. In fact, the remaining bee populations are so small and rare now that they are especially vulnerable to the slightest of changes to their habitats or stochastic events, according to the Xerces Society.
H. hilaris, for example, was historically found on the islands of Lanai, Molokai, and Maui, but is now restricted to a single small, highly vulnerable population. The bee is considered to be the most endangered native Hawaiian Hylaeus species in existence.
Given the rapid decline in the Hawaiian yellow-faced bee numbers, conservationists have welcomed the listing. Hawaii-based entomologist Karl Magnacca of Xerces told the Associated Press that it has taken almost 10 years to get to this point. “It’s good to see it to finally come to fruition,” he said.
With the seven bee species formally protected, the authorities can now target conservation efforts to help their populations recover. Conservation groups say that a critical step to protecting these species would be to ensure better control and management of the natural habitats where the bee populations are known to exist.
“The USFWS decision is excellent news for these bees, but there is much work that needs to be done to ensure that Hawaii’s bees thrive,” Matthew Shepherd of the Xerces Society wrote in a blog post. “These bees are often found in small patches of habitat hemmed in by agricultural land or developments. Unfortunately, the USFWS has not designated any ‘critical habitat,’ areas of land of particular importance for the endangered bees.”
This story originally appeared at the website of global conservation news service Mongabay.com. Get updates on their stories delivered to your inbox, or follow @Mongabay on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.