Seven species of Hawaiian yellow-faced bees have been added to the US list of endangered and threatened species, making them the first insects of their kind to receive protection under the US Endangered Species Act, according to BBC News and Associated Press reports.
The decision comes following several years of study by conservationists, including scientists at the Xerces Society, which found that the pollinators are at risk due to habitat loss, wildfires, and the introduction of invasive insects and plants into their islands, the media outlets explained.
While the yellow-faced bees (which belong to the genus Hylaeus) can be found in other parts of the country, the species now receiving protection are native to Hawaii and are important because they pollinate indigenous plants that could themselves die off should the insects become extinct, said Xerces Society Director of Endangered Species and Aquatic Programs Sarina Jepson.
Land development in coastal areas, and the presence of feral pigs and invasive ants are some of the main reason for the bees’ dwindling numbers, she added. They are among 10 new species of animals, including the band-rumped storm-petrel and the orangeblack Hawaiian damselfly, and 39 new types of plants added to the list, the AP noted.
Officials stopped short of designating ‘critical habitat’ areas
Researchers, including Hawaii-based entomologist Karl Magnacca, worked long and hard in an attempt to secure the bees’ listing, according to BBC News. Magnacca had been working with Xerces for nearly a decade to convince the government to extend endangered species protections to the pollinators. “It’s good to see it to finally come to fruition,” he said.
In a Friday blog post, Xerces Communications Director Matthew Shepherd called the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to list the species “excellent news,” but added that there would still be “much work that needs to be done to ensure that Hawaii’s bees thrive… Unfortunately, the USFWS has not designated any ‘critical habitat,’ areas of land of particular importance for the endangered bees.”
Despite the lack of designated habitat, the listing will enable officials to establish new recovery programs and secure funding for conservation efforts, according to CNN. The new rules will go into effect on October 31, and come just days after the USFWS revealed that a different species of bee, the rusty-patched bumble bee, was also being considered for protection.
“Pollinators play such an important role” in maintaining the health of plants and other animals throughout the Hawaiian islands, USFWS spokesman Brent Lawrence told the AP. “Listing these species as endangered will certainly help draw attention to the threats that have brought them close to extinction and it also allows us to begin the process of bringing about recovery.”
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