According to a landmark new study, more than a quarter of North America’s 4,337 native bee species are in a state of decline. In total, 749 were found to be at risk of extinction. Of the 1,437 species for which there is data, 749 were in a state of decline.
These bees play a crucial ecological role, not just in pollinating plants important for human food systems, but many other plants as well. Without them, the United States alone would need to pony up $3 billion a year to pay for artificial pollination services, and that’s just for fruits. It doesn’t even begin to take into consideration the potential for ecosystem collapse without these crucial pollinators.
“The evidence is overwhelming that hundreds of the native bees we depend on for ecosystem stability, as well as pollination services worth billions of dollars, are spiraling toward extinction,” said Kelsey Kopec, a native pollinator researcher at the Center and author of the study.
“It’s a quiet but staggering crisis unfolding right under our noses that illuminates the unacceptably high cost of our careless addiction to pesticides and monoculture farming.”
A majority of the losses were due to habitat loss, climate change, urbanization, and the use of pesticides for modern agriculture.
“We’re on the verge of losing hundreds of native bee species in the United States if we don’t act to save them,” says Kopec. “Almost 90 percent of wild plants are dependent on insect pollination. If we don’t act to save these remarkable creatures, our world will be a less colorful and more lonesome place.”
Half of the bee species for which there is sufficient data are shown to be in decline. The bees for which there is no data are likely suffering the same fate at about the same rate. In all likeliness, half of North America’s pollinators are at risk for extinction.