First of all, bees aren’t the only pollinators out there! Bats, birds, beetles, moths, and wasps are some of the many different critters involved in the pollination of over 85% of the worlds flowering plants, of which over 100 are eaten and grown in the United States! In fact, without pollinators we wouldn’t have squashes, beans, peas, melons, citrus, stonefruits, berries, and even a plant near and dear to the average intern’s heart - coffee! Pollinators do all this for the reward of nectar and pollen produced by the plants, and in exchange the plant gets to reproduce with nearby plants without moving. This interspecific mutualism stretches back 110 million years ago, and has caused an explosion of diversity in vegetation and animals.
So, what’s the need for conservation then? Many people know of the charismatic megafauna that dominate the endangered species buzz - animals like grizzlies, pandas, blue whales, tigers and more. But how many think of the little guys - the bees and other pollinators? There are currently five bumblebee species listed or proposed to be listed from the continental united states: The Western Bumblebee, Rusty Patched Bumblebee, Yellow Banded Bumblebee, Suckley’s Cuckoo Bumblebee, and, of course, Franklin’s Bumblebee. All of these and more have experienced a rapid and extensive decline in the last few decades, and the Franklin's, the focus of my DFP project, was last seen in 2006.
Me and my co-intern, Chloe Hansum, are working hard to identify habitat for these bees, all in an area of about 5 counties in California and Oregon. We’re also putting together floral resource guides for citizen scientists, beginning to organize a Pacific Northwest bee symposium, and compiling a bumblebee threats and management literature review to help inform further management for the Fish and Wildlife Service. You can help at home by researching what rare and endangered bees are native near you, and support community efforts to build habitat and raise awareness for these important critters! Who knows, maybe one day you’ll help bring back one of these species from the brink.