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Conservation and science leaders demand government protection of wild bumblebees

Digital writers

Sunday, November 3, 2013, 7:22 PM - It isn't just the honey bee that's in trouble. Its bulkier counterpart, the bumblebee, has also been on a drastic decline over the years, and conservationists and scientists are once again calling for government action.

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Defenders of Wildlife and entomology professor Dr. Robbin Thorp have asked agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack to step up and take action on a petition to regulate the shipment of commercial bumblebees. They argue it's needed in order to help control the spread of parasites and pathogens to wild bumblebees -- a North American species which may already be facing extinction. 

The group says their request is "urgent and overdue", and that unless the government intervenes, there will be a continued "dramatic decline in bumblebee pollinators with perilous and potentially irreversible consequences". 

Experts say the pathogens transmitted by commercial bumblebees is one of the main reasons we're seeing such a drastic decline in wild bumblebees. 

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"In the last two decades, there has been a dramatic rise in the demand for commercially reared bumblebees to pollinate greenhouse crops, particularly tomatoes," wrote researchers in their letter asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to use its authority and regulate commercial bumblebees. "This rise has come with a concomitant decline in numerous species of North American bumblebees. The evidence to date supports the hypothesis that this decline was caused by the introduction of diseases spread by commercial bees." 

SEE ALSO: Scientists uncover why millions of bees are dying

The request comes nearly four years after their initial petition, which asked the agency to promulgate regulations that ban the movement of adult bumblebees, nests, and previously used nest materials outside their native ranges in order to protect wild bumblebees. 

The APHIS is yet to comment on the call to action. 

Bumblebees are native to Canada, with over 25 species specializing on the Rocky Mountain regions. Bees are responsible for pollinating plants that provide much of our food. In North America, it is believed that about 30% of food for human consumption originates from plants pollinated by bees.

Read the full petition as presented by the research team here.

With files from EcoWatch

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