ST. GEORGE — A conservation group has petitioned the federal government to list a desert bee once seen in southwest Utah as endangered.
The Center for Biological Diversity announced last month that it had petitioned the Department of the Interior to add the Mojave poppy bee to the endangered species list. The bee, which once existed across the Mojave Desert, is currently found in only seven locations in Clark County, Nevada.
The bees are specialized pollinators of the Las Vegas and dwarf bear poppies, meaning they pollinate no other flowers but those. Unlike the bee that pollinates them, the poppies are already protected to some degree.
The Las Vegas bear poppy is considered critically-endangered in Nevada, while the dwarf bear poppy, also known as the bear claw poppy and only found in Washington County, is federally-protected under the Endangered Species Act.
“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,” Tara Cornelisse, an entomologist and senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release. “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 was seen in Washington County up until 2014 and may has since gone extinct in the region, according to studies cited by the center.
“We haven’t seen them in years,” said Erin O’Brien, chairwoman of Dixie State University’s department of biological science. O’Brien and many of her students have taken up studying the bear claw poppies in recent years.
According the Center for Biological Diversity, threats facing the remaining Mojave poppy bee population include grazing, gypsum mining and motorized recreation.
As the bees make their home underground, activities that disrupt the surface are considered a potential threat to their survival.
Other threats listed in the center’s 36-page petition include increasing urbanization and habitat fragmentation – which are considered among the reasons for the bee’s disappearance in Washington County – as well as completion with non-native bee species.
The potential loss of the Mojave poppy bee is also considered a threat to the Las Vegas poppy and Dwarf bear poppy. Other bees can pollinate the flowers but are not as effectively as the Mojave poppy bee, according the center’s petition.
Just as the decline of the bees is seen as a threat to the desert poppies, so too is the decline of the flowers, particularly the endangered Dwarf bear poppy, seen as a threat to the bees’ continued survival.
“Designating critical habitat and implementing a recovery plan pursuant to ESA listing are the only ways that these threats could be adequately managed to facilitate the return and recovery of the Mojave poppy bee in Utah,” the center’s petition states.
O’Brien said it would be wonderful to see the bees reintroduced in Washington County, noting that pollinators in general were having survival issues.
“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,” the center states in a press release.
According to the center, 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.
It is the small, unassuming species like the Mojave poppy bee that are crucial, O’Brien said.
“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,” Cornelisse said. “If we lose this special bee, the Mojave Desert is at risk of losing three species that define its essence.”
- The Center for Biological Diversity’s petition to list the Mojave poppy bee as an endangered species
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