LAS VEGAS— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition today asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to give Endangered Species Act protection to the Mojave poppy bee, which is known to survive only in seven locations in Clark County, Nev.
Although it once thrived across much of the Mojave Desert, the quarter-inch-long, yellow-and-black bee has been pushed to the brink of extinction by habitat loss, grazing, gypsum mining and motorized recreation. The bee’s pollinating skills are tightly linked to the survival of two rare desert poppy flowers, and the bee has disappeared as those plants have declined.
“If we don’t act quickly, we’re going to lose this beautiful little native bee as we watch two of the Mojave’s irreplaceable desert flowers continue to decline,” said Dr. Tara Cornelisse, an entomologist and senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Their story is a perfect example of why we can’t turn our backs on the plight of our imperiled native bees.”
The Mojave poppy bee, first described by scientists in 1993, inhabited at least 34 known sites across Nevada, California, Arizona and Utah. Its current known range is now just seven known sites, all of them in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and adjacent Bureau of Land Management land in Clark County, Nev., where it faces ongoing threats from grazing, mining and motorized recreational vehicles.
The bee is a specialist that pollinates two increasingly rare poppies that produce pollen but no nectar: the Las Vegas bear-poppy and the dwarf bear-poppy. Female Mojave poppy bees collect pollen from the poppies to feed their young, while males aggressively defend flowers for a chance to mate with pollen-collecting females. Consequently both males and females pollinate the rare bear-poppies.
The Las Vegas bear-poppy is a rare plant and considered a critically endangered species in Nevada. The dwarf bear-poppy is a federally endangered species found only in Washington County, Utah. A leading cause of the dwarf bear-poppy’s ongoing decline — despite its Endangered Species Act protection — is the absence of the Mojave poppy bee, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
“This poppy bee is a vital part of the Mojave landscape that erupts into a gorgeous floral display in spring, attracting droves of nature lovers to the desert,” said Cornelisse. “If we lose this special bee, the Mojave Desert is at risk of losing three species that define its essence.”
The disappearance of the Mojave poppy bee is part of a troubling decline in many of the 4,000-plus species of native, wild, mostly solitary bees in the United States that are needed to pollinate the full spectrum of wild plants.
Native bees often provide more effective pollination of native plants than honeybees, which are not native to the United States. Wild pollinator declines across North America are due to habitat loss, agricultural intensification, pesticide use, invasive non-native species, climate change and pathogens.
About 90 percent of wild plants and 75 percent of leading global food crops — including 35 percent of the global food supply — depend on animal pollinators for reproduction, and the great majority of that work is done by bees.
Despite the growing evidence of the decline in bee populations, the rusty patched bumblebee is the only bee in the continental United States currently protected under the Endangered Species Act.