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One female rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) was found in Eau Claire, Wisconsin on August 15, 2017. Photo by Tamara Smith/USFWS

One female rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) was found in Eau Claire, Wisconsin on August 15, 2017. Photo by Tamara Smith/USFWS.

Service biologists find new rusty patched
bumble bee location – you could too!

In mid-August, Service biologists conducting a habitat and stressor assessment found a new location for the federally endangered rusty patched bumble bee in Eau Claire County, Wisconsin! Biologists were conducting the assessment at nearby site where the species was documented in 2016.

Jennifer Szymanski, Service biologist, photographs a rusty patched bumble bee. Photo by Tamara Smith/USFWS
Jennifer Szymanski, Service biologist, photographs a rusty patched bumble bee. Photo by Tamara Smith/USFWS.

After conducting a habitat assessment at the known site, the biologists set off to do some bumble bee surveys in the area – after surveying a few spots, the new location was discovered. It was also the first time that three of the biologists, all of whom had been key in developing the species status assessment, listing rule, and recovery actions, had actually seen rusty patched bumble bees live and in the wild! Needless to say, everyone was excited to see this hard-to-find species, which has been reduced to scattered locations in approximately one-third of the states where it was historically found.

Our immediate goal is to halt the decline of the rusty patched bumble bee and to prevent its extinction with the eventual goal to recover the species. As part of that effort, we and our partners are conducting habitat and stressor assessments at approximately 40 prioritized sites with recent records of the species to determine what actions are needed to ameliorate stressors and/or improve the habitat to increase the resiliency of these known populations.

As we move strategically to stabilize and halt the decline of the species, we are encouraging Service biologists and our partners to help conduct habitat assessments and bumble bee surveys. These surveys will guide us as we strive to improve the resiliency of known populations by stabilizing and boosting the health of populations in priority extant locations. Habitat assessments and bumble bee surveys conducted in other areas can also provide valuable information – for example, areas where the species was found historically can serve as important corridors to connect extant populations.

The next step, after conducting site assessments, is to ameliorate stressors and improve or increase the habitat. Rusty patched bumble bees need three things: floral resources for pollen and nectar from early spring, when the solitary queens emerge from hibernation to form new colonies, to the late fall; nesting sites, such as abandoned rodent nests and bunch grasses, for colonies to establish and grow; and overwintering habitat, loose soil with leaf litter near or in woodlots, for queens. Maintaining and restoring habitat for rusty patched bumble bee will benefit other species, such as the monarch butterfly and the yellow-banded bumble bee.

The Service has developed resources to help guide habitat improvement, management, and education. For example, we and our partners have developed a regionally specific rusty patched bumble bee preferred plant list, which provides suggestions of plants that the species will use over its long active flight period (roughly mid-March through mid-October).

Habitat assessments, survey guidance, and other resources to help conserve the rusty patched bumble bee can be found online at https://www.fws.gov/midwest/Endangered/insects/rpbb/guidance and https://www.fws.gov/midwest/Endangered/insects/rpbb.
 
By Tamara Smith
Minnesota-Wisconsin Ecological Services Office

Last updated: September 14, 2017