Sunday, October 4, 2020

Virginia’s Vanishing Rusty Patched Bumblebee

Some more about the importance of bees,,,, as pollinators, rusty patched bumble bees contribute to our food security and the healthy functioning of our ecosystems. Bumble bees are keystone species in most ecosystems, necessary not only for native wildflower reproduction, but also for creating seeds and fruits that feed wildlife as diverse as songbirds and grizzly bears.

 Bumble bees are among the most important pollinators of crops such as blueberries, cranberries, and clover and almost the only insect pollinators of tomatoes. Bumble bees are more effective pollinators than honey bees for some crops because of their ability to “buzz pollinate.” a pollination technique where it grabs onto a plant and then vibrates its body at a high frequency to shake loose tightly packed pollen that might otherwise be difficult to access. Not all bees buzz pollinate — honeybees, for example, don’t. But buzz pollination is essential for the reproduction of a range of plants, including crops like blueberries, apples and tomatoes. 

But some 25 years ago, the rusty patched bumble bee began to disappear. Eventually the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that the species was “so imperiled that every remaining population is important for its continued existence.” It became the first bee to be included on the agency’s endangered species list in 2017. 

In Virginia, where the species once ranged widely, the bee in recent years has only been observed in four counties: Bath, Highland, Augusta and Rockingham, with the most sightings in the former two locations. 

There is little consensus among scientists about what’s causing the rusty patched bumble bee’s disappearance, but much is being done to conserve them.

Several U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service programs work to assess, protect, and restore pollinators and their habitats. Also, the Service works with partners to recover endangered and threatened pollinators and pollinator-dependent plants. Concern about pollinator declines prompted formation of the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, a collaboration of people dedicated to pollinator conservation and education.

Trusts, conservancies, restoration groups and partnerships are supporting pollinator initiatives and incorporating native plants that support bees and other pollinators into their current activities. 

Researchers are studying and monitoring the impacts of GMO crops and certain pesticides on pollinators. Efforts by citizen scientists and researchers to determine the status of declining bee species are underway throughout the U.S.