Seven varieties of yellow-faced or masked bees native only to Hawaii were listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act on Friday, the first time any bees in the United States have been classified as being in danger of extinction.
The bees' existence is threatened by such factors as habitat loss, wildfires and invasion by plants, animals and insects not native to the region.
Yellow-faced bees were once abundant on Hawaii and Maui, the two largest islands of the Hawaiian Islands, but recent surveys have shown a drastic decline in their populations, according to federal wildlife managers. The bees pollinate some of Hawaii's endangered native plant species, leading to fears by environmentalists that many of these could also become extinct.
Bees in global danger
The decision to list the native Hawaiian bees comes amid a plunge in populations across the world over the past decades. Just over a week ago, the US Fish and Wildlife Service formally proposed adding another species, the rusty-patched bumble bee once found widely in the upper Midwest and Northeastern United States, to the endangered and threatened species list.
Bees are among the main pollinators not only of wild plants, but also of commercial crops. If they were to die out or their populations were to decrease below certain levels, it would pose a real danger to human food security.
Among other things, environmentalists have pointed to the use of pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids, as a likely major factor in causing the decline of bee populations.
tj/jlw (AP, Reuters)