Hundreds of native bee species headed toward extinction

An analysis of the status of bees native to North America and Hawaii finds many species in decline — and nearly one in four at risk of extinction.

“It’s a quiet but staggering crisis unfolding right under our noses,” said Kelsey Kopec, a pollinator researcher with the Center for Biological Diversity and the author of the study “Pollinators in Peril.”

The decline of the European honeybee has generated a lot of buzz in recent years, but native bee species also are in trouble due to habit destruction, pesticide use, climate change, urbanization and agricultural intensification, according to the CBD.

“Pollinators in Peril” reviewed information for all 4,337 North American and Hawaiian native bee species and found sufficient data to assess the status of 1,437.

More than half of these species — 749 — are in decline, including 347 imperiled species.

“The evidence is overwhelming that hundreds of native bees we depend on for ecosystem stability, as well as pollination worth billions of dollars, are spiraling toward extinction,” Kopec said.

CBD dedicated a year to the analysis, which involved reviewing the conservation status of species set by state and federal governments and established by independent research.

These native bees, unlike the European honeybees, are mostly solitary, ground-nesting insects that collect from pollen, nectar, leaves and petals.

The report highlights several imperiled native bees:

  • Sunflower leafcutting bee. The large bee used to be seen among sunflowers on the Great Plains but is in steep decline and rarely seen.
  • Wild sweet potato bee. The bee, which has a three-lobed snout, once was common in much of the East but it is now “dangerously imperiled.”
  • Macropis cuckoo bee. The bee, which invades the nests of other bee species to lay eggs, was common across the central and eastern United States but is now endangered.

Areas where native bees have suffered most in the United States are California’s Central Valley and the Midwest’s Corn Belt.

The CBD report builds on other studies showing a global decline of bees and other insect pollinators. A United Nations group in 2015 reported declines for 37 percent of bee species. The report also said 9 percent of bee and butterfly populations face extinction.

Milkweed for monarchs

The Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin has partnered with the Monarch Joint Venture to protect a spring tradition and a threatened species.

Each spring, monarch butterflies return from winters in Mexico to Wisconsin and other northern locations to breed and lay eggs.

butterfly

But for the past two decades, habitat loss, pesticide use, climate change and other threats have caused the monarch population to decline by more than 70 percent.

NRFW announced recently it is working with about 50 other partners to conserve, protect and promote the monarch. It plans to coordinate educational programs and provide grants for monarch conservation and habitat restoration in Wisconsin.

“Habitat in Wisconsin is a critical link in the monarch life cycle,” said Caitlin Williamson, director of conservation programs at NRFW. “So we believe it is our responsibility to do what we can to restore habitat and educate people in Wisconsin on how they can help.”