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The Buzz

Another Bumble Bee Faces Precipitous Population Decline

An American bumble bee. (Photo via Shutterstock)

There's less buzz in the natural world these days with the population of the American bumble bee dropping almost 90% in the past 20 years.

Because of the sharp decline in the bee's population, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Bombus Pollinators Association of Law Students petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether the bee has reached threatened or endangered status, WTTW reports. 

As of now, the American bumble bee is not protected by any state or federal laws. However, that could change at the end of the year-long review period initiated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service after granting the petition from the diversity center and law students association. During this period, an in-depth review and analysis will be conducted to determine if the bumble bee warrants inclusion on the U.S. Endangered Species List.

At one time, you could find American bumble bees across much of the eastern United States and parts of Canada. Today, however, they are much more rare and have almost completely disappeared from 16 states that were once part of their range, the Center for Biological Diversity reports. The largest remaining populations of the bee are in the Great Plains and the southeastern United States.

The American bumble bee faces many threats, including climate change, competition from non-native bees like honeybees, disease, habitat destruction, livestock grazing, loss of genetic diversity and pesticide use, the fish and wildlife service reports. 

The American bumble bee isn't the only bumble bee species native to Illinois that faces dire population declines. The rusty-patched bumble bee has already been placed on the U.S. Endangered Species list. It's population has dropped 87% in the past 20 years, and it is thought to live in only 0.1% of its historical range, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Elsewhere in the United States, the Franklin's bumblebee is also endangered, added to the Endangered Species List in August 2021. The Franklin's bumblebee lives in a small geographic area spanning southwestern Oregon and northern California, the wildlife service reports.

The precipitous decline in the populations of these bumble bees and other native bees and insects can have dire effects on our ecosystems because they are pollinators, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. In particular, bumble bees are important pollinators of both wildflowers and crops because they can fly at lower temperatures and light levels than other bees species. They can also perform buzz pollination, a process by which the bees grasp a flower and use their wing muscles to vibrate, or buzz, the flower to dislodge the pollen.    

You can help protect our native bees and other pollinators by providing essential habitat for them in your yard by planting a mix of native flowers, shrubs and trees that bloom throughout the growing season, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service advises. Other steps you can take to help protect these essential insects include reducing pesticide use in your yard and leaving your yard more untended, including skipping mowing and raking.


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