For the first time, an American species of bumblebee has been listed as endangered, but according to one entomologist, that’s actually a good thing. While bee populations around the world have been suffering in recent years, listing the rusty patched bumblebee as an endangered species will help protect it and, perhaps, bees more broadly.
Bees are essential to a variety of ecosystems, primarily in their role as pollinators but also as part of the larger food web, providing food for birds, fish, and other insects. Recent declines have been attributed to parasites, pesticides, urbanization, diseases, and the introducing on non-native plants into their ecosystems. Even natural disasters like floods and droughts are considered factors in bee population decline.
While the situation seems dire, and there probably are more problems facing bees now that in the past, bee populations have always fluctuated. Fewer crops means more natural habitat for bees, while more crops means less, and higher temperatures mean more bees while colder temperatures see them decrease.
But according to Jeff Whitworth at the Kansas State University, there are a number of ways to help bumblebees. Simple things like cutting the grass or trimming trees less often can make a difference. Beekeeping as a hobby has been growing in recent years, in both rural and urban locations, which can help restart bee populations in various ecosystems.
But placing the rusty patched bumblebee on the endangered species list is probably the single biggest step. The point of listing species in this way is to promote conservation efforts to protect them. In the past it’s made a huge difference for some species, giving governments the motivation to protect them through legislation, pushing scientists to do more research on a species, and getting people to donate more time and money toward helping keep those species around.
Ultimately, Whitworth doesn’t fear for bees’ existence. “Weather and prices vary from year to year, which is simply part of the way systems work,” he said. “I foresee bee populations staying fairly steady for the foreseeable future.”