Federal authorities have, for the first time, added bees to the list of species that would be given protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
On Friday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gave seven species of yellow-faced bees that are native to Hawaii islands an endangered status. The Xerces Society, the conservation group that advocated for the bees' new designation, said that these are the first bees in the country to be included in the endangered species list.
Once among the most populous species of insects in Hawaii, the yellow-faced bees experienced a sharp drop in number over the past century. The population decline is blamed on humans destroying bee habitats and using crop dusting that are toxic to the pollinators. The bees also face threats from non-native species.
Invasive bees from India, for instance, now settle in habitats where the yellow-faced bees used to thrive. This non-native species also compete with the yellow-faced bees for plants. The population of the yellow-faced bees are likewise threatened by alien ants that feed on their larvae.
Loss of these bees is feared to impact the ecosystem.
The bees are not just the species in Hawaii that would get federal protection. Wildlife authorities also assigned endangered species status to other animal and plant species found in the Hawaiian Islands. These include the band-rumped storm-petrel, the orangeblack Hawaiian damselfly, the anchialine pool shrimp, as well as 39 species of plants.
"These species are all affected by habitat loss and invasive species," said Mary Abrams, FWS field supervisor for the Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office. "Listing these species as endangered will help draw attention to the threats that have brought them so close to extinction, and allow us to begin the process of bringing about recovery."
Of the 49 species, 48 are are endemic to Hawaii. Nine of these plants are only found in Kauai while the 22 of the animal and plant species occur on the main island of Hawaii and one or more of the other islands. The bird species band-rumped storm-petrel is also found in Japan, Galapagos and subtropical areas of the Atlantic but wildlife authorities proposed to list only the Hawaii population that thrive on the islands of Hawaii, Maui, Lehua and Kauai.
"Implementing an ecosystem-based approach to the proposed listing allows the Service to better prioritize and focus conservation and recovery actions in Hawaii," said FWS acting field supervisor for the Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office Kristi Young.