By Laura Zuckerman
(Reuters) - U.S. wildlife managers on Wednesday proposed protections for seven types of bees once found in abundance in Hawaii that are now threatened with extinction due to factors like habitat loss, wildfires and the invasion of nonnative plants and insects.
This is the first time the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed adding any types of bees to the federal list of endangered and threatened species amid continuing declines among wild bees – and some commercial ones – in the mainland United States, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation said.
The seven varieties of yellow-faced or masked bees, so named for yellow-to-white facial markings, once crowded coastal areas and lowland forests on such islands as Hawaii and Maui. But recent surveys found that their populations have sharply declined, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Like declining wild bees elsewhere in the United States, Hawaii’s yellow-faced varieties have suffered from habitat destruction and fragmentation tied to development.
The Hawaiian insects are also threatened by competition from nonnative bees for food and nesting sites.
The introduction of exotic grasses and other plants have made some island areas more prone to wildfires, which have proved more destructive to native vegetation needed by the bees, U.S. biologists said in a listing proposal published on Wednesday in the Federal Register.
The Xerces Society, which petitioned for U.S. Endangered Species Act protections for the only bees native to the Hawaiian islands, hailed the move.
"They are critical pollinators of many endangered Hawaiian plants and the decline of these bees could lead to the extinction of the plants that rely upon them," said Sarina Jepsen, the group's endangered species program director.
The proposal, which is open for public comment through Nov. 30, also seeks endangered classifications for three additional Hawaiian animals and 39 plants.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Curtis Skinner and Eric Beech)