Federal authorities on Friday added seven yellow-faced bee species, Hawaii's only native bees, for protection under the Endangered Species Act, a first for bees in the United States. The US Fish and Wildlife Service announced the listing after years of study by the conservation group Xerces Society, state officials, and independent researchers. A Xerces rep said yellow-faced bees can be found elsewhere in the world, but these particular species are native only to Hawaii and pollinate plant species indigenous to the islands. The bees face a variety of threats including "feral pigs, invasive ants, loss of native habitat due to invasive plants, fire, as well as development, especially in some (of) the coastal areas," she told the AP. The yellow-faced bees pollinate some of Hawaii's endangered native plant species. While other bees could potentially pollinate those species, many could become extinct if these bees were to die off entirely.
Hawaii-based entomologist Karl Magnacca worked with Xerces on much of the initial research. It has taken almost 10 years to get to this point. "It's good to see it to finally come to fruition," he said. "People tend to focus on the rare plants, and those are important, that's a big part of the diversity. But the other side is maintaining the common ones as common. (The bees) help maintain the structure of the whole forest." The bees are critical for the health of plants and other animals across the islands, said a Fish and Wildlife Service rep. There is no designated critical habitat, he said, but the protection will allow authorities to implement recovery programs, access funding, and limit their harm from outside sources. "Those plants are not only food and nesting habitat for the bees, but they also provide habitat for other animals," he said. "It's the web of life." The rusty-patched bumble bee is also being considered for protection. (Read more Endangered Species Act stories.)