Bees are greatPUBLIC DOMAIN
A bee pollinates a flower. For the first time, wild bee species have been put on the Endangered Species List. PUBLIC DOMAIN

H. Resit Akçakaya is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook University. 

On October 31, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will, for the first time, put a bee on the Endangered Species List ― actually seven species of wild bees, all from the Hawaiian islands. Another species, the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee has been proposed for listing. This species used to live in a large part of the eastern U.S. and Canada, including Long Island. It is now found only in 41 counties, and is already listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, Red List of Threatened Species. 

Wild bee species are declining, not just in the U.S., but worldwide. Although few bee species have been studied sufficiently to determine whether they are threatened, data from those that scientists have studied suggests that up to a quarter of all wild bee species may be threatened with extinction. The causes of declines in bee species are not fully understood, but studies implicate intensive agricultural practices, including pesticide use, other types of environmental pollution, invasive species from other parts of the world, diseases, and climate change.

So, why should we care? One important reason is that bees are pollinators. In addition to the more than 20,000 species of wild bees and a few species of domesticated honey bees, many species of other insects, as well as birds and bats, pollinate our crops. According to a recent intergovernmental study sponsored by the U.N., more than a third of our crops depend on pollinators. These include many fruits, vegetables, and nuts, as well as coffee and cocoa. Both wild and domesticated pollinators are important for crop pollination; this study found that a diverse community of pollinator species more effectively pollinates our crops than any single species.

I worry about the decline of pollinators, and not just because I like coffee and chocolate. I worry because it is yet another example of one of the biggest challenges of our time. Biodiversity―the spectacular variety of life on Earth, with its intricate patterns and long history of evolution―is being lost rapidly because of human impact. Pollination is just one example of how profoundly the natural world affects the livelihoods, health and safety of humans. Beyond maintaining human life and civilization, biodiversity has priceless intrinsic value and unbelievable beauty. When we lose biodiversity, we lose our fundamental connection to other organisms, and our planet’s deep evolutionary heritage.

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You may ask if simply caring and worrying is enough. Of course not, but I believe it is an excellent start. Because the biggest obstacle to biodiversity conservation is not scientific, technological or economic. It is the same obstacle hindering every positive change: apathy.

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21 comments

  1. It’s hard to believe that another species may be going extinct especially since they play a major role in pollination.

  2. The endangerment of bees is a very eye-opening topic to the human culture and how we are negatively impacting not just certain species, but the world. It pains me to see that the usage of pesticides and pollutants (a direct result of humans) are killing off a species that are so vital to pollination and our crops. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more and more aware of how we are hurting nature and its natural beauty and it motivates me to try harder to help and not hurt the earth.

  3. I find hard to believe that we are now reaching to a dangerous point where we humans are killing a essential part of our survival. And most of us refuse to understand or do something about it.

  4. This is a very important issue. This article shows how pesticides are detrimental to all living things. The decline in the species of wild bees will affect our crops. Using less pesticides and more natural methods could help reduce the extinction of wild bees. It seems like the increase of pesticides due to biotech crops are only doing more harm than good.

  5. It’s upsetting to know that a portion of the population doesn’t care what happens to the bee population-especially now that more are going onto the endangered list. We use bees for a plethora of things, and it will be interesting to see if people will start to take better care of the environment and everything in it.

  6. I hope the majority of policymakers realize the importance of bees on not only the environmental factors, but economic future and health of people. We eat a lot of the plants pollinated by bees, and to lose bees is to lose a major part of our food pyramid needs and agricultural industry.

  7. It isn’t mentioned in this article, but Long Island’s native bees are in trouble too. I’ve been involved with LINPI’s efforts to support native bee habitats. It is worth looking at, Long Island native bees are solitary unlike the honey bees most are familiar with. Really fascinating.

  8. It is very troubling that given the facts, most of the public refuses to acknowledge the problems we will face if bee populations decline further. If more people were educated about the implications of bees declining, there may be more of a push for action.

  9. It is dreadfully eye-opening to hear about this keystone species at the brink of extinction and the consequences it could have on our environment. Truly, this is an apocalypse scenario that has already been kept track of since years ago – yet the trend continues because of our climate change and consumption patterns.

  10. With so many factors contributing to their decline, this feels like a great undertaking. I’m excited to see what industries change in response to this listing.

  11. With the disappearance and extinction of bees comes the loss of biodiversity and agriculture that our society depends on. Many do not see the importance bees play in their ecosystems but hopefully with putting them on the Endangered Species list comes a movement or inspires action.

  12. The extinction of pollinators will not only result in lack of biodiveristy, but will also put a tremendous burden to feeding the expanding population.

  13. interesting and intriguing . the extinction of bees may not be the end of the world, but as said in this article, it affects our biodiversity.

  14. Bringing attention to the declining number of bees must be the first step in preventing their potential extinction.

  15. I fear that in our lifetime if we do not take action, the bee population might shrink to levels that will affect crop pollination.

  16. I never imagined that bees would play such a vital role in food production especially coffee. We should really take this seriously and aware people of what will happen if bees goes extinct.

  17. I did not know that bees had so many important roles. I like that the article ends on a positive note and hope that people will continue to care about their part in maintaining biodiversity.

  18. I am hopeful that this action by U.S. Fish and Wildlife will be a wake-up call for some of us to do what we can through educating others and creating havens for local bees before it’s too late for us to help them.

  19. It never occurred to me that bees could possibly become endangered, they seem so abundant! Also, I love coffee and, I never realized the role that bees play in coffee production.

  20. Natasha Reynoso
    Before reading this article I did not know that seven wild species of bees became listed as Endangered Species.

  21. I have heard of bees becoming endangered here and there but did not realize how much of an issue it actually is. It’s scary to think what will come if this problem continues and nothing is done to save the bees.

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