Seven Hawaiian Bees Deserve, But Don’t Get, Endangered Status

Published by Environment News Service
September 8, 2011

Hylaeus hilaris, one of the rarest native Hawaiian bees. This is the second specimen collected in the past 120 years, from Moomomi Preserve on Molokai.
Hylaeus hilaris, one of the rarest native Hawaiian bees. This is the second specimen collected in the past 120 years, from Moomomi Preserve on Molokai. (Photo by Karl Magnacca)

HONOLULU, Hawaii, September 8, 2011 (ENS) – Listing for seven species of Hawaiian yellow-faced bees as endangered is warranted, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined, but the listing “is not possible at this time due to higher priority actions,” the agency said. The Service has added these seven species of Hawaiian bees to its candidate species list.

The result of the Service’s 12-month petition finding was published in the Federal Register Tuesday.

The determination comes in response to a petition from the nonprofit Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, which is not pleased with the Service’s decision.

“We are extremely disappointed that these rare pollinators did not receive full Endangered Species Act protection,” said Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Xerces Society. “It is our hope that the Service will follow through on their finding, so that these bees do not go extinct while waiting to be listed.”

A proposed rule to list these seven species of Hawaiian yellow-faced bees will be completed as Service priorities allow, the agency said. A determination on critical habitat will be conducted during development of the proposed listing rule. During the interim period, the Service will address the status of the candidate species through its annual Candidate Notice of Review.

Lacking common names for each species, the seven species are identified by their scientific names: Hylaeus anthracinus, Hylaeus assimulans, Hylaeus facilis, Hylaeus hilaris, Hylaeus kuakea, Hylaeus longiceps, and Hylaeus mana.

“Pollinators such as Hawaiian yellow-faced bees are critical components of a healthy environment and society,” said Loyal Mehrhoff, field supervisor for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office.

Threats to Hawaiian yellow-faced bees include the present or threatened destruction or modification of their habitat by urbanization, land use conversion and nonnative plants and animals as well as inadequate habitat protection, the Service has determined.

The bees also face competition from nonnative invertebrates such as the European honey bee and predation by nonnative ants and the western yellow jacket wasp.

These threats are ongoing and, in the case of some nonnative species, are considered irreversible. Fire is also a potential threat to the habitat of these species in some locations, the Service said.

Since March 2009, when the Service received emergency listing petitions for these seven species from the executive director of the Xerces Society, the Service has grown increasingly aware of the potential extinction these bees face.

On May 8, 2009, the Service determined that emergency listing was not warranted. Then on June 16, 2010, the Service published a 90-day finding that indicated the listing of these seven Hawaiian yellow-faced bees may be warranted.

Now, the Service says the endangered listing is warranted but precluded by higher priority actions needed to amend the federal lists of endangered and threatened wildlife and plants.

The seven species belong to the Hawaiian genus Hylaeus, commonly known as yellow-faced bees or masked bees, for their yellow to white facial markings.

Hylaeus is part of the Colletidae family of bees, known as plasterer bees due to their habit of lining their nests with salival secretions. The family includes over 2,000 species, all of which are solitary nesters, unlike social wasps and bees.

With over 500 species worldwide, bees of the Hylaeus genus are widespread and very diverse in the Hawaiian Islands, with 60 native species, including 20 species that are found only in Hawaii.

“Most people, and even many scientists, don’t realize that we have a huge diversity of native bees in Hawaii – 62 species from the Big Island to Nihoa,” said biologist Karl Magnacca of the University of Hawaii, Hilo, who has conducted recent surveys of Hawaiian bees.

“Some of the rarest ones, including five of these candidate species, live down on the coast and people would see them every day on the beach if the native plants were still there,” said Magnacca.

“Pollinators are keystone species in many ecosystems,” said Sarina Jepsen, endangered species program director at the Xerces Society. “But these Hawaiian yellow-faced bees are likely even more important since many of Hawaii’s native plant species are not well adapted to pollination by nonnative bees. For the sake of this ecosystem we hope that the Service will act quickly to list these pollinators.”

Read the article in Environment News Service


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