Threats and Conservation Efforts
The Xerces Society works on a number of fronts to address the many issues that all pollinators face. This includes working with citizen scientists and land-owners, collaborating with agencies and scientists, and advoacy. Our approach to bumble bee conservation encompasses a coordinated effort involving research, advocating for necessary protections, establishing and communicating management guidelines, and providing outreach and education in the form of short courses and workshops.
Causes of Decline
Commercially Reared Bumble Bees
A leading hypothesis for the decline of some of North America’s most imperiled bumble bees is that bumble bees commercially reared for pollination services helped amplify and spread a virulent pathogen (Nosema bombi) throughout North America to which wild bees had little resistance. Bumble bees are reared commercially for use as pollinators of agricultural crops such as greenhouse tomatoes and cranberries. It has been clearly documented that commercial bumble bees carry high pathogen loads and regularly interact with wild bumble bees near greenhouses and in open field settings, providing a clear mechanism for infection.
It has been consistently demonstrated that pesticides are having negative effects on native bees and their habitat.
Climate Change and Habitat Loss
Climate change may already be disrupting the relationships of plants and pollinators. This has the potential to shorten the reproductive season for bumble bees, particularly if late-season resources bloom earlier and reduce resources when the critical reproductive members of the colony (new queens and males) are active.
The changing climate also contributes to a larger factor associated with bee declines by fragmenting and degrading existing habitat. The loss of habitat to development, agriculture, and a changing climate is likely having a profound effect on all wild bees. Native prairies and grasslands are ideal for bumble bees, yet nearly all North American prairies and grasslands have been lost to land conversion, and what remains is heavily fragmented.
Addressing Key Threats
Bumble Bee Watch
In 2014, in collaboration with several partners, we launched Bumble Bee Watch, a citizen science project to track and conserve North America’s bumble bees. Participants can submit bumble bee photos to a network of bumble bee experts that have been enlisted to help verify observations. We now have over 14,000 submissions with observations submitted from all 49 states that have bumble bees (only Hawaii does not) as well as all Canadian provinces and territories. These observations inform our outreach to landowners and state and federal stakeholders regarding opportunities for on-the-ground conservation work, and will help address questions about alterations to these species’ emergence times and/or shifts in their distribution due to climate change.
Workshops and Events
Over the past year, the Xerces Society has taught bumble bee identification and survey courses in California, Minnesota, Oregon, Massachusetts, and Washington. Over 300 agency biologists, land managers, citizen scientists, master gardeners, and homeowners learned about bumble bee identification, biology, ecology, conservation status, threats, conservation needs, and steps they can take to conserve bumble bees. Many of these courses were geared especially for federal biologists and provided them with training to better manage federal lands to support bumble bees and other pollinators. As a result of these courses, private and public lands in the West and Midwest have become much safer for bumble bees. Are you interested in a bumble bee workshop near you? Contact us for more information.
Endangered Species Act Protection
The Xerces Society has worked to gain Endangered Species Act protection for two of the most imperiled species in North America: the rusty patched bumble bee and Franklin’s bumble bee. In the fall of 2015, the rusty-patched bumble bee received a positive 90-day finding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in response to a petition authored and submitted by the Xerces Society and prominent bumble bee biologists in 2013, and subsequent lawsuit filed by the Xerces Society and NRDC in 2014. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s finding supported the assertion by the Xerces Society that the rusty-patched bumble bee is threatened with extinction as a result of diseases, habitat loss, and pesticide use. The agency is currently conducting a thorough 12-month status review of the species, and will determine whether or not this bumble bee warrants protection as an endangered species. To inform this review, the Xerces Society submitted comprehensive comments to the agency, including summaries of the recent scientific literature demonstrating the extent and type of threats that pesticide use—specifically neonicotinoid insecticide use—and diseases from managed pollinators pose to this species.
Protecting All Pollinators
The Xerces Society has been engaged at all levels in protecting pollinators. Through education, advocacy, policy, and on-the-ground habitat restoration we are working to support all pollinators.
Species of Highest Conservation Concern
Meet some of the most at-risk bumble bee species. Read more.
Conserving Bumble Bees
Creating, protecting and restoring habitat is a very important way to conserve the populations of bees that remain. To help landowners and managers achieve this, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation published Conserving Bumble Bees. Guidelines for Creating and Managing Habitat for America’s Declining Pollinators.
Bumble Bee Conservation Brochure
This brochure contains information about how to enhance any landscape to help meet the seasonal needs of bumble bees. View or download as a PDF.
IUCN Bumble Bee Specialist Group
The Bumblebee Specialist Group is working towards a comprehensive and detailed assessment of the global status of bumble bees, including a major red listing effort for all species, as well as promoting their conservation. Click here to read more.
Learn About Bumble Bees
Learn about the life-cycle of bumble bees, how to ID them, download pocket guides, and use interactive resources. Read more.