Protecting precious pollinators: Feds considering steps to save yellow-faced bees

by Kim Eaton, West Hawaii Today
June 17, 2010

The Hylaeus hilaris is found on the island of Moloka'i. Photo Courtesy Of Karl Magnacca, University Of Hawaii

The Hylaeus hilaris is found on the island of Moloka

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to further research whether several species of the Hawaiian yellow-faced bee should be protected and is soliciting additional information about the species for its review.

“This is not the type of bee that chases you around and you get stung,” said Mike Richardson, staff biologist for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Island Fish and Wildlife Office. “What makes them special is that we have so many species in Hawaii.”

The bees also serve as pollinators of native plants, he added.

In March 2009, the federal bureau received five petitions from nonprofit environmental group the Xerces Society’s executive director requesting the federal government list seven of Hawaii yellow-faced bee species as endangered and designate critical habitat for the species.

While a determination hasn’t been made yet, the society provided enough information for the bureau to determine listing may be warranted and a 12-month finding review of the species’ status was initiated, said Christa Russell, listing coordinator for the bureau’s Pacific Island Fish and Wildlife Office.

“The petitions make a good case for how all of the species have declined over the years historically,” Richardson said.

Belonging to the Hylaeus genus, there are 60 native species in the Hawaiian Islands, including 20 that are endemic to individual islands.

The primary threat to the seven species is either direct or indirect impacts to their habitat, Richardson said. In addition to the degradation and loss of coastal and lowland habitat on the main islands, there have been impacts to their host plants.

“Some nest in very specific places or they pollinate and feed on specific plants and something is happening to those plants,” Richardson said. The introduction of invasive animals and plants, and fire are also potential threats to the species’ habitat.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is requesting information regarding the species, including historical and current status and distribution, disease or predation, inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms and more. Information needs to be received by the bureau by Aug. 16. Once received, the data will be reviewed, and a determination will be made regarding the species.

For more information, visit and do a search for Hawaiian yellow-faced bee, or call Loyal Mehroff, Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office field supervisor, on Oahu at 792-9400.