It has been well reported that the European honeybee has been dramatically declining across much of its range. But in the United States, the honeybee is just one of over 4,000 species of bee, many of which fill a similar role in the ecosystem. Yet how these are faring amidst widespread land use changes and pesticide use is little understood.
In the most comprehensive analysis yet of US bee species, the picture emerging is not looking good. “The evidence is overwhelming that hundreds of the native bees we depend on for ecosystem stability, as well as pollination services worth billions of dollars, are spiraling toward extinction,” said Kelsey Kopec, a native pollinator researcher at the Center for Biological Diversity, who authored the new study.
She found that of 1,437 species of bee species with sufficient data to assess their status, more than half (749) are already declining, and almost a quarter is at a high risk of disappearing from the States altogether. This is of serious concern, as these largely solitary ground nesting species are critical in maintaining not only natural ecosystems, but also farming as they are thought to contribute over $3 billion in pollination services.
The usual factors are thought to behind this worrying situation, from the destruction of habitats, to the move to more intensive monocultures in farming, and the overuse of pesticides. “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,” said Kopec.
There have been moves to try and help some of the lesser known, but no less important, bee species. Seven species native to Hawaii are now listed as endangered, but attempts to do something similar in other parts of the US were recently thwarted. Effectively, there needs to be a more concerted effort to protect and save the insects, otherwise we will all suffer.
As individuals, there are measures that you can take to help your local bees. Using fewer pesticides is a good place to start, as there is evidence that some types, particularly those containing neonicotinoids, can harm bees and other pollinators. Another good practice is to plant a wide variety of native flowering plants that come into bloom throughout the year, in order to provide bees with enough food during the different seasons. You can even buy “bee hotels” to provide solitary bees with a safe place during winter.
“We’re on the verge of losing hundreds of native bee species in the United States if we don’t act to save them,” said Kopec. “If we don’t act to save these remarkable creatures, our world will be a less colorful and more lonesome place.”