Life without honeybees would be less than sweet – it’d mean a lot fewer fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. But honeybees aren’t the only bees we need to worry about. The future of many Native North American and Hawaiian bee species is also in peril: a new study found that more than half of the region’s native bee species are declining, and nearly one in four native bee species is imperiled and at risk for extinction.
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A new report by the Center for Biological Diversity entitled “Pollinators in Peril: A systematic status review of North American and Hawaiian bees” outlines the importance of these native bee species by valuing their financial importance as well as their ability to help ecosystems thrive. As fruit-pollinators, native bee species are worth more than three billion dollars, yet their work pollinating wild flowers and plants is equally important in maintaining diverse and colorful flora. As if the information regarding known declining populations wasn’t cause enough for alarm, the author warned that this study and other bee studies simply don’t have enough data on thousands of native bee species – many of which are found in areas of “great environmental degradation” – to determine if they are at risk.
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The study cites loss of habitat due to agriculture, heavy use of pesticides, climate change, and urbanization as large drivers of the native bee populations’ decline and endangerment. Lead author Kelsey Kopec said, “It’s a quiet but staggering crisis unfolding right under our noses that illuminates the unacceptably high cost of our careless addiction to pesticides and monoculture farming.”
The report includes case studies of five distinct bee species around the country that are in great peril, including the wild sweet potato bee, which is the only known species in the world in its genus, and the sunflower leafcutting bee, which is the largest and most distinctive leafcutting bee on the continent. While a casual eye might be tempted to group these bee species together, their unique habits and contributions to varied ecosystems highlight their individual importance and fragility.
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