If conservation efforts are too late, the rusty-patched bumblebee species native to North America may face possible extinction in the future.
That's according to officials from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), who propose that the rusty-patched bumblebee (Bombus affinis) should be placed under protection of the Endangered Species Act.
“After review of the best available scientific and commercial information, we find that listing the rusty patched bumble bee is warranted," the FWS said in a statement.
The fuzzy insect used to be a common sight across the Midwest but is now struggling to survive in its habit, experts said.
Statistics from the FWS reveal that the rusty-patched bumblebee has experienced a population decline of 91 percent since the 1990s.
The decline could also be worse than that because many population measurements have not been confirmed since the 2000s.
But should the endangered species listing be a success, the rusty-patched bumblebee will be the first bee species to receive significant protections.
Scientists say the rusty-patched bumblebee used to be common in 31 states in the 1990s, but the range has shrunk to only a few areas in the Midwest and Ontario, Canada.
The FWS said such a decline was caused by threats in the form of increasingly fragile habitats, the spread of herbicides and insecticides, diseases such as the colony collapse disorder and climate change.
Save The Humble Bumblebee
The rusty-patched bumblebee plays an extremely important role in a healthy ecosystem, as well as to human's food security.
Like all bee species, the rusty-patched bumblebee spreads pollen between plants, which allow them to reproduce.
Without insect pollinators such as the bumblebee, an entire ecosystem could experience an imbalance, especially since many animals depend on pollinated plants for food.
Back in 2013, the Xerces Society sent a petition to the FWS to list the rusty-patched bumblebee under the Endangered Species list. The group claimed the government had not responded and proceeded to file a lawsuit against the FWS.
Now, the FWS is taking a crucial step toward the protection of the bee species. If the insect gains protection status, the government may start seeking out ways to expand its habitat.
Furthermore, the event could shed light toward saving other bee populations as well.
Sarina Jepsen, spokesperson of the Xerces Society, believes placing the species under the Endangered Species Act could save the insects.
"Endangered Species Act safeguards are now the only way the bumble bee would have a fighting chance for survival," said Jepsen.
Photo: USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab | Flickr