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Experts raise concerns as once-plentiful bee species teeters on brink of collapse: 'Due to a number of interacting stressors'

The bee's population has plunged by 90%.

The bee’s population has plunged by 90%.

Photo Credit: iStock

One North American bumblebee species is on the brink, with its population and range decreasing dramatically in recent years.

What's happening?

The rusty patched bumblebee, once found in about half of U.S. states from Vermont to North Dakota, is struggling to survive, MyFox8 reported. Since 2000, it's only been sighted in 13 states, and in 2017 it became the first bee species to be listed as federally endangered. The bee's population has plunged by 90%, and now individuals are mostly found in West Virginia and in and around Wisconsin.

So what's the problem? 

Well, it "may be due to a number of interacting stressors," according to conservation biologist Jay Watson, whose interview with Nexstar was quoted by Fox8. He cited factors like pathogens, parasites, pesticides, fungicides, habitat loss and degradation, managed bees, small population biology, and the effects of a warming world.

Why is this bumblebee's decline concerning?

Bumblebees are important pollinators for more than 25 crops worldwide, including cranberries, zucchini, melons, cucumbers, alfalfa, sweet peppers, strawberries, blueberries, and sunflowers. The loss of these bees jeopardizes our ability to sustainably produce food, impacting local economies and threatening food security.

Unfortunately, the rusty patched bumblebee isn't the only one in peril. The Fox article also reported that two more bumblebees in its subgenus — the yellow-banded bumblebee and the western bumblebee — have also suffered similar population declines across their ranges. 

The problem isn't unique to North America. At least 45% of Europe's bumblebees face population decline because of habitat fragmentation and loss of foraging plants, according to the Paleontological Research Institution. 

This is all bad news for our food supply and biodiversity. According to the Xerces Society, in Britain and the Netherlands, where some species of bumblebees and other bees have become extinct, scientists have noted a decline in the abundance of insect-pollinated plants.

Plus, certain plants like pansies have begun to self-pollinate as populations of bees and other pollinators decline. If more flowers shift toward self-pollination, it could have widespread effects on the resilience of plants, according to scientists.

What's being done about bumblebee population decline?

According to ecologist John Mola, the rusty patched bumblebee's endangered species listing has helped propel habitat restoration efforts

By rewilding your yard with native plants, you can provide food and shelter to bees and other pollinators. This can also help you save almost $300 a year by reducing water usage.

Meanwhile, researchers are experimenting with "fairy-like" robots that could help pick up the slack on pollination as some of nature's hardest workers like the rusty patched bumblebee continue to face hurdles to their survival. 

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