MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Biologists with the Department of Natural Resources are searching for areas in Minnesota where an endangered species of bumble bee lives in an effort to understand how best to protect the important pollinators.
Earlier this year, the rusty-patched bumble bee was the first bee on the mainland U.S. to be placed on the federal list of endangered species. As recently as the 1990s, the rusty-patched bumble bee buzzed across 28 states in the Midwest and East Coast. Now, the pollinators are only found in 13 states, Minnesota among them.
Over the summer, biologists with the DNR's Nongame Wildlife Program searched for areas where the rusty-patched bee might live, such as Sand Dunes State Forest, near Monticello. The researchers hope to understand what's causing the recent decline in wild bee populations.
Scientists have offered several explanations – from pesticides to pathogens, climate change to the number of cars on roads – and the answer could be a combination of various factors.
DNR researchers say it's important to understand what's happening to the rusty-patched bumble bee because they – and other species of bumble bee – are important pollinators in food production. They help produce nearly one-third of the foods humans eat, such as tomatoes, cranberries and peppers.
"If you've ever been stung by a bee, you might wonder why we'd worry about their survival," said DNR biologist Erica Hoaglund. "But if we don't, our whole ecosystem could be in trouble, including ourselves."
Federal officials have encouraged homeowners and organizations to adopt "bee-friendly practices," such as gardening with native, flowering plants and not using pesticides that hurt bees.
The DNR is encouraging Minnesotans to donate to the state's Nongame Wildlife Program so more research can be done. The program currently helps more than 700 animal species in Minnesota.
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