14.03.2017 |

One in four North American bee species at risk of extinction, report warns

Bee at risk: Megachile fortis (Photo: USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Laboratory)

One in four North American bee species are at risk of extinction due to threats such as habitat loss and pesticide use, new research shows. According to a report released by the Center for Biological Diversity, a US-based conservation organisation, population levels of more than 700 of the 4,000 native bee species in North America and Hawaii are declining at an alarming rate. The main drivers are habitat loss, heavy pesticide use, climate change and urbanization, the study found. To assess current population trends, the researchers reviewed the current conservation status of 316 species as established by state, federal or independent research and then conducted a comprehensive review of all available literature on native bees to determine a status for a further 1,121 species. They concluded that of the 1,437 native bee species for which sufficient data was available, about 749 or more than half were declining. According to the scientists, 347 native bee species – nearly one in four – are imperiled and at increasing risk of extinction.

The report says that a primary driver of these declines is agricultural intensification, which includes habitat destruction, widespread planting of monocultures and toxic pesticide use. “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 pollinator researcher at the Center and author of the study. “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.” While the decline of European honeybees in the US and beyond has been well publicized in recent years, the more than 4,000 species of native bees in North America and Hawaii have been much less documented, the report reads. “We’re on the verge of losing hundreds of native bee species in the United States if we don’t act to save them,” Kopec warned. Almost 90% of wild plants are dependent on insect pollination. Bees provide more than $3 billion in fruit-pollination services each year in the US. “And these unique insects, and their pollination services, are vital to the survival of ecosystems. Our lives and culture would be significantly impoverished without these hardworking, underappreciated and declining animals,” the report concludes. (ab)

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