The Plight of the Bumble Bee: Addressing Bumble Bee Declines in the United States

The Plight of the Bumble Bee:

Addressing Bumble Bee Declines in the United States
by Adrian Cato


The rusty patch bumble bee, a species that has experienced decline in approximately 96 percent of its range, recently became the first bee to be placed under the Endangered Species Act.[1] This evokes further questions about the current state of bumble bees in the United States, and what actions should be taken to further prevent their extinction. Bumble bees act as essential pollinators for both wild landscapes and within the agricultural sector.[2] Changes in land usage, in combination with other factors including neonicotinoid pesticide exposure and disease places strain on bumble bee populations in the United States. While emphasis has been placed on the introduced European honey bee and subsequent colony collapse disorder, the decline of the is bumble bees is paralleling the honey bee decline. One solution to this issue of declining bumble bee populations can be found in setting aside or restoring suitable habitat for the species. The Endangered Species Act is an effective policy to accomplish this tentative solution.


As honey bee populations are on the decline, it becomes even more imperative to preserve native bumble bees as they may be relied upon to contribute more heavily to the agricultural economy. While the future of bumble bees remains uncertain, action must be taken to include this declining species under clear and specific policy which aims to conserve their declining habitats. Preserving habitat for bumble bees can be accomplished under the Endangered Species Act, which in part provides “a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved.”[3] By working to include declining species under the ESA this issue of habitat conservation can be addressed. The rusty patched bumble bee is not the only species of bumble bee that is on the decline and brink of extinction. There are five species of bumble bee which have been identified as having experienced extensive reductions in their ranges, including the rusty-patched, Franklin’s, yellow-banded and American bumble bee.[4] Additional species that are experiencing a large decline in their range, should be considered candidates to be placed under the ESA. While rusty patch bumble bees, have been reduced extensively in their range, additional species have experienced declines of approximately 23-87%, still presenting a major threat to their survival.[5]
Bees act as a keystone species in most ecosystems, serving as important indicators of ecosystem health.[6] Because they are generalist pollinators, bumble bees pollinate a wide variety of plants, these factors contribute to the importance of protecting bees to ensure the long-term viability of ecosystems.[7] Habitat fragmentation has been found to be a major cause of bumble bee declines in European nations.[8] Another compounding factor to decline is pesticide usage. Commonly the usage of pesticides has been evaluated in honey bee populations, as opposed to wild bees, including bumble bees. The EPA should continue to evaluate risk assessments of neonicotinoid pesticides with an expansive focus on both honey bee and bumble bee population risks. In addition, the fungal pathogen, Nosema bombi, presents a threat to North American bumble bee species.[9] It has also been suggested that the introduction of pesticides weaken honey bee populations making them more susceptible to exposure to Nosema and other pathogens.[10] More action should be taken to specifically research the decline of bumble bee populations in the United States and the effect of neonicotinoid pesticides on species abundance and reproductive success. This additional action would provide a basis for further policy implementation, including restricting or limited the usage of some pesticides. In combination with ESA policy expansion to include additional species of bumble bee in the United States, these acts have the potential to assist in preventing further damage to fragile bumble bee populations.


Kim-Lin comment:
Adrian, I agree with your argument that more action should be taken in terms of research of pesticide usage and its effects on bee populations, and I think you explained your reasoning for this very well. More research is definitely necessary. However, I wonder if there would be some pushback in regards to pesticide research, as it may result in outlawing the pesticides in certain areas where bee populations are prevalent. I think that certain groups that rely on pesticides for their livelihoods (agriculture, farming, etc.) may not like interference, and can provide a potential barrier. Additionally, I am interested in the political feasibility of expanding to add more honey bee species to the ESA lists. While I believe it to be necessary to save the populations of bees, I am unsure if that could actually occur in the current political atmosphere of the country.


Jack G. comment:
Great post, Adrian. Thanks for bringing up the distinction between non-native honey bees and native bumblebees. I hadn’t thought about their differences very much, and for some reason assumed that honeybees were native. It will definitely be interesting to see if the USFWS comes up with a critical habitat plan for the rusty patched bumblebee. I believe that only about half of current threatened or endangered species have habitat plans, but hopefully the new bumblebee will get one before it’s too late. From what I read, it looks like the habitat restoration plan would mainly focus on native prairies and grasslands.


Aedan comment:
I really enjoyed your post on a topic that is integral to our food system. I don’t think a lot of people truly understand the severity of the issue and how wide ranging the impacts will be. This is especially true of bee species that can easily cross both state and country boundaries. I think that your point about the ESA as an effective piece of legislation to protect bees is spot on. However, with Trump’s recent prevention of the listing of the rusty patched bumble bee, I wonder if any bees will be listed during the Trump Administration. This could be a significant development as bee populations might decline so rapidly without listing that no population recovery will be possible after the Trump Administration. I also think that having the EPA research the impacts of pesticides on bee populations is a great idea, but that seems to address a symptom of our food system rather than the root of the issue, which is our current system of industrial agriculture. If we could move towards sustainable agriculture methods, and away from heavy pesticide and chemical use, than we could easily save bee species. Great job!


Lukas G:
I had never really thought about the difference between bumble bees and honey bees before. One question I was left with were the different niches they hold in an ecosystem. I do think your article was important; however, to giving voice to the generally overlooked bumble bee declines. I was wondering what the effect of Africanized Honey Bees and other alien species may be having on bumble bees and if that is a significant cause of their decline. This calls into question how the ESA deals with alien species threatening the life of endangered native species. My one critique is that some of your evidence seems to be speaking to honey bees instead of bumble bee, probably due to lack of research. Adding more specific research about bumble bee decline and the reasons for it may strengthen your argument.
Tommy comment:
It is good to hear that a bee has finally made it on to the Endangered Species List. I’ve heard about the declining population of bees for years now, but I never see much governmental action beyond local level policies. I’m curious about the economic impact that a dwindling bee population could have on our agricultural economy. I assume that these bees are being wiped out by the expansion of farming land into wilderness areas, but bumble bees are major pollinators of crops as well. I would love to see some sort of cost-benefit analysis of this because I would guess that there is a certain bee population level under which crops suffer dramatically.
Cynthia comment:
You did a really great job discussing the important of bumble bees and I really learned a lot about a topic I haven’t had much experience with. You do a good job at explaining why these bumble bees are so important as they are keystone species and a good indicator of the health of an ecosystem. I think the public sometimes has some misconceptions about bumble bees and other insects and I think you properly handled the information to dispel those misconceptions.

Furthermore, I really enjoyed reading your blog as you chose a topic that most people don’t know that much about even though it is clearly such an important issue, as you very successfully explained.

I think your recommendations are really thorough and would definitely help slow the rapid decline in bumble bee populations. The ESA definitely has some faults, so I appreciated that you suggested the ESA policy expansion. However, I worry that with the current presidential administration and the threats to the EPA, securing bumble bee populations will not be prioritized and may be pushed aside. Really great job with the blog! I really enjoyed reading it.


Henry comment:
This is a really great piece. You really seem to have done your research and become familiar with the policy. I really didn’t know anything about different policy strategies for infrastructure plans, so I’m glad you chose this subject. I like how rather than reject Trump’s plan outright with a strategy that continues current plans, you found middle ground that allows smarter partial privatization with more public oversight. In my mind, any good that is seen as a guaranteed good for the country, like water, should not be left in the hands of folks whose primary goal is to turn a profit, unless there are strict regulation and oversight, as you have proposed. Thanks for this informative post!



Taylor comment:
I really enjoyed reading your blog and think you did a good job of shedding light on a lesser-known species. You did a really good job of explaining the importance of keeping the rusty patch bumble bee population intact and drove the point home by citing relevant statistics that indicated the severity of the population decline. I think one of the strongest parts of your blog is when you drew attention to bees as keystone species. As you concluded, if we were not already committed to saving these species, we should do so now more than ever so as to preserve the ecosystem as a whole. Lastly, your specific recommendations of how the EPA should move forward worked well to close out the blog.


Michael W. comment:
This was a really interesting post on an issue that is vital for our food system. The information you provided about the different types of bees and how they are facing different issues was very interesting and clearly showed how each bee species needs to be addressed differently to ensure its survival. The decline of native bees is especially disturbing because bees are very specialized and the decline of specific pollinators can lead to the decline of the plant species that they pollinated. The commercialization and widespread use of the European Honey Bee has lead to a disinterest and lack of care for native species that play instrumental roles in their local ecosystems that cannot be ignored. The usage of the Endangered Species Act to protect many species of native bees is an awesome use of the ESA and hopefully would be able to help bee species recover. I wonder if there would be a possibility to devise a crop production methodology that simulates traditional bumble bee environments so crops could be produced while introducing more habitats for bees to recover in. Hopefully more research is completed soon to encourage the protection of native bees and stop their dangerous decline in population. Great work!


Andrew comment:
This is a great blog. I’ve been looking for good info on the decline of bees for a while now. Great job emphasizing the importance of bees as a keystone species. I think bees are often underestimated because they aren’t the most glamorous or cutest species, but they play a very important role in ecosystem functionality. It’s concerning to me to hear that 5 species of bees are experiencing declines, and it’s especially scary to hear about the rusty patch’s range declination. Maybe we could combine your suggested action to research the safety of pesticides for bees with action to increase safety of pesticides for drinking water sources. Combined, these threats may be enough to reform pesticide usage and increase safety for both bees and humans.


[1] Cameron, Sydney A., et al. “Patterns of widespread decline in North American bumble bees.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108.2 (2011): 662-667.
[2] Hatfield, Rich, et al. “Conserving bumble bees.” Guide-lines for Creating and Managing Habitat for America’s Declining Pollinators (2012).
[3] Congress, U. S. “Endangered species act.” US Code 16 (1973): 1534-1544.
[4] Hatfield, Rich, et al. “Conserving bumble bees.” Guide-lines for Creating and Managing Habitat for America’s Declining Pollinators (2012).
[5] Cameron, Sydney A., et al. “Patterns of widespread decline in North American bumble bees.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108.2 (2011): 662-667.
[6] Hatfield, Rich, et al. “Conserving bumble bees.” Guide-lines for Creating and Managing Habitat for America’s Declining Pollinators (2012).
[7] Hatfield, Rich, et al. “Conserving bumble bees.” Guide-lines for Creating and Managing Habitat for America’s Declining Pollinators (2012).
[8] lbid
[9] lbid
[10] Pettis, Jeffery S., Josephine Johnson, and Galen Dively. “Pesticide exposure in honey bees results in increased levels of the gut pathogen Nosema.” Naturwissenschaften 99.2 (2012): 153-158.