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Group Hopes To Get Bumblebee On Endangered List

June 24, 2010

On Wednesday, a conservation group filed a petition to add a bumblebee from Southern Oregon and Northern California to the endangered species list.

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and University of California at Davis entomologist Robbin Thorp formally petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the inset under the Endangered Species Act.

Executive director of the Xerces Society in Portland, Scott Hoffman Black, told the Associated Press (AP) the petition is part of an effort to reverse the decline of bumblebees and other native bees around the globe because of habitat loss, pesticides and diseases spilling out of commercial greenhouses.

The group is preparing petitions to protect other bumblebee species as well.  The bee was chosen for this petition because documentation of its decline is more detailed than other species.  Thorp found 94 Franklin’s bumblebees in 1994, but he has seen none since 2006.

Farmers often hire honeybee keepers to pollinate crops.  However, a mysterious honeybee killer known as colony collapse disorder has decimated hives.

Bumblebees are typically used to pollinate hothouse crops like tomatoes, peppers and strawberries, and field crops like blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, squash and watermelon.  Bees pollinate about 15 percent of all crops grown in the nation, worth an estimated $3 billion.

“The decline in Franklin’s bumblebee should serve as an alarm that we are starting to lose important pollinators,” Black told AP. “We hope that Franklin’s bumblebee will remind us to prevent pollinators across the U.S. from sliding toward extinction.”

While many native bumblebees have dropped in population because of loss of habitat and pesticides, Franklin’s bumblebee and some related species have suffered deep and sudden declines that Thorp has theorized may be related to a fungus that was inadvertently transported with bumblebees brought from Europe for commercial use.

Researchers at the University of Illinois are working to see if the nosema bombus fungus caused declines in a number of related bumblebees, such as once common Western bumblebee, the rusty-patched bumblebee, and the yellow-branded bumblebee in the Northeast.

The Xerces Society and other conservation groups and scientists called on federal agricultural authorities earlier this year to start regulating shipments of commercially domesticated bumblebees to protect wild bumblebees from diseases threatening their survival.

A National Academy of Sciences report in 2007 blamed the decline of pollinators across the globe on a combination of habitat loss, pesticides, pollution and disease spilling out of greenhouse using commercial bumblebees.

Image Caption: Bombus franklini female worker. Credit: Pete Schroeder.

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