Thursday, April 4, 2024

Genetic Study Unveils Critical Conservation Needs for Endangered Rusty-Patched Bumblebee


Researchers, led by Colorado State University, conducted the first range-wide genetic study of the endangered rusty-patched bumblebee, published in the Journal of Insect Science. This species, the first bee in the U.S. to be listed as endangered in 2017, has experienced a rapid decline since the late 1990s due to pesticides, pathogens, habitat loss, and climate change. The study revealed that even in areas where these bees are still found, populations are small and suffer from high rates of inbreeding, which poses a serious threat to their long-term survival. Inbreeding results in diploid males, which lack genetic diversity and are a sign of a population's impending collapse.

The research identified three genetically distinct populations of the rusty-patched bumblebee across the upper Midwest, central Midwest, and Appalachians. This differentiation is crucial for conservation efforts, indicating that recovery strategies need to be tailored to each population's genetic makeup to ensure their survival upon reintroduction into the wild.

What stands out for me is the severity of the challenges these bees face, not just from external threats like habitat loss and pesticides, but also from internal threats like genetic inbreeding. The latter is particularly concerning because it indicates a diminishing capacity for the species to adapt and survive in the long term. 

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