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As Bumblebees Turn Endangered, Researchers Look To Explain Declines

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Nearly six months after seven Hawaiian bee species were declared endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, another one in the continental states faces the same classification.

The rusty patched bumblebee being added to the endangered species list could increase awareness on saving the bees and create jobs for bee research, experts say.

“I don’t want to say that I’m happy that they’re on there because it means that the bees are in a critical state,” said Josh Campbell, a bee researcher and post-doctoral associate in the University of Florida’s Entomology and Nematology Department. “But now that they are on there, people will start focusing efforts.”

When species become listed as endangered, he added, “it’s a big deal because tax money, federal money, goes to the support of aiding this particular species.”

The bumblebees aren’t native to North Central Florida. They are found nearby in some regions in Georgia and Alabama, but are concentrated more in northern regions of the country because of the colder weather.

Increased research on them could lead to a better understanding of the causes and effects of their declining population, Campbell said.

“For the large part, we don’t know why its population declined,” he said. “That all happened within a 20- to 30-year period.”

The research could also reveal ways to modify habitats in ways that would increase the bee population in certain areas, Campbell said.

Because of bumblebees’ relative rareness in North Central Florida, Conner Keller said he comes across honeybees far more often.

The operations manager at the pest control company All Florida Bee Removal said it seeks out the insects only when they’re a nuisance for people.

“We only mess with them if they are in direct contact with human beings,” he said.

The problems the bumblebees now face are indicative of those of all bees and beekeepers, said Tom Nolan, a former president of the Florida State Beekeepers Association. In 2016, keepers lost about 44 percent of their hives, he added.

“Bees are, right now, high on the watchlist of what’s happening in the environment,” he said. “One-third of our food comes from the pollination of bees.”

About Mercedes Leguizamon

Mercedes Leguizamon is a reporter at WUFT News, she can be reached at 786-619-4733 or by email at mercedeslegui@gmail.com and mercelegui@ufl.edu

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