The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering listing seven Hawaiian yellow-faced bee species for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.
For the next year, the Fish and Wildlife Service will review the status of the bees to decide whether they warrant the endangered listing. The agency will also be conducting a comprehensive analysis on Oahu, Hawaii island and across Maui County to determine whether reserves need to be set up to protect the species from habitat degradation.
According to the petitions, the bees are also being threatened by invasive species and, in some locations, fire.
Although the Fish and Wildlife Service says it is too early in the review to tell, the ruling could affect land use in the state wherever the endangered species are found. Federal law limits the destruction or modification of critical habitat and prohibits any development that would lead to the extinction of a listed species. For the native bees, that area could include stretches of the Waianae and Koolau mountains on Oahu and along sand dunes in Wailuku.
The service called for the review in response to petitions from the Xerces Society, an Oregon-based nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation of invertebrates and their habitats worldwide.
"Bees are so important to us as pollinators," said Xerces Executive Director Scott Hoffman Black. "Native bees are really the foundation of entire ecosystems."
Loyal Mehroff, field supervisor for the agency’s Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office, said the bees are critical pollinators of native Hawaiian plant species, and their loss threatens the entire native ecosystem.
"These species are likely critical pollinators of one or more native Hawaiian plant species," he said in an agency press release.
There are more than 60 known species of native yellow-faced bees in Hawaii, with more than 20 species endemic to single islands. The yellow-face or masked bees have yellow or white facial markings and are also known as plasterer bees because of they line their nests with salival secretions.