Hawaii's Yellow-Faced Bees: The First Bee Species from the U.S to be Listed on the Endangered Species List
Written by: Laura Mendez Ortiz
Starting in 2009, the Xerces Society, a non-profit organization aimed at protecting pollinators, filed a petition to get seven species of yellow-faced bees protection under the Endangered Species Act. After seven years, finally on September 30th, the United States Fish & Wildlife Services announced that it would grant endangered species status under the Endangered Species Act to the seven species of yellow-faced Bees. This is the first time in the United States that a bee species has been listed under the endangered species list. These seven species include Hylaeus anthracinus, Hylaeus longiceps, Hylaeus assimulans, Hylaeus facilis, Hylaeus hilaris, Hylaeus kuakea and Hylaeus mana. These seven species of yellow -faced bees are endemic to Hawaii and are critical to the biodiversity of this island. They are important pollinators to a lot of Hawaii's native plants and trees and have also been said to be "critical for maintaining the health of the plants and trees across the island" by Gregory Koob, the conservation and restoration team manager for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Honolulu. Karl Magnacca, Hawaii entomologist, went as far as to say that they "maintain the structure of the forest" because they tend to favor Hawaii's "more dominant trees and shrubs".
The yellow-faced bees can live in different parts of Hawaii such as its "coasts, dry forests and shrublands, mesic and wet forests, and subalpine shrublands". In the 1980s and 1990s, they were described to being one of the most abundant insects in Hawaii and have now been observed to have shrunk to almost non-existent in certain locations. There are a multitude of causes for their disappearance. One noticeable correlation is between the general disappearance of Hawaii's native plants and species and the disappearance of the bees. It is believed to have been caused by the introduction of non-native invasive species. There are other causes such as development on the coasts and agriculture, and possibly disease. Often time, these small populations have habitats that are in contact or directly affected by agriculture. As the environment changes, including the climate, the extremely small size of this population will inhibit its ability to adjust to these changes.
Groups such as the Xerces Society recognized this as a great first step, but as Xerces Society spokemen Matthew Sheperd says "there is much work that still needs to be done". Putting these species on the Endangered Species List allows for authorities to " implement recovery programs, access funding and limit their harm from outside sources" . When a species is added to the Endangered Species List, must determine and define its habit a "critical habitat" but unfortunately, the United States Fish & Wildlife Services announced it was not able to determine it as this time.