Summer internships are common for many students at Loyola. For Kevin White, a junior environmental science major, his internship at Loyola’s Retreat and Ecology Campus (LUREC) in Woodstock led to more than just research. He found the endangered rusty patched bumblebee.
White said Mike Redmer from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) told interns to keep an eye out for the endangered bee species, which was added to the endangered species list in March.
The USFWS has worked with LUREC in its restoration efforts, and Redmer said he visits throughout the year to keep updated on projects.
White said he was doing restoration work toward the end of July when he saw the bee.
“I saw a bumblebee that looked slightly different from the brown-belted bee, which is really similar,” the 20-year-old said. “I took a couple pictures … and I sent it in [to the USFWS] once I was pretty sure. It had to be this rusty patched bumblebee, and, surprisingly, it was.”
White said he saw the rusty patched bumblebee a few more times after that over the course of the summer.
The rusty patched bumblebee — named for a distinctive, dark red spot on its back — was historically found throughout the Northeast and Midwest parts of the United States, according to the USFWS.
Today, the rusty patched bumblebee is found in 0.1 percent of its historic habitat range, according to the Rev. Stephen Mitten, S.J., who supervised White’s internship.
LUREC falls into the rusty patched bumblebee’s historic range and is in a zone where they are likely to be seen.
The rusty patched bumblebee lives in small, concentrated areas, and it’s been seen in some Midwestern states including Wisconsin, Indiana and Iowa. Redmer said the bee is seen yearly, but reported sightings have been declining over the past two decades. The rusty patched bumblebee used to be one of the most common native bumblebees, according to Redmer.
LUREC’s restoration efforts played a role in attracting the rusty patched bumblebee, according to Mitten.
“[The bees] require a whole diversity of wildflowers, and we have that in LUREC,” Mitten said. “They don’t like invasive trees, so Dr. Lammers and the Restoration Club and her interns … have done a lot of clearing of invasive plants, particularly invasive shrubs.”
Roberta Lammers-Campbell is the restoration director at LUREC and has led restoration efforts for more than five years, according to Mitten. LUREC holds events throughout the year for volunteers to help with restoration.
LUREC has about two acres of prairie with a variety of wildflowers, which the rusty patched bumblebee needs. Mitten said there are also several abandoned rodent holes that the bees now call home.
Buckthorn and Honeysuckle are two of the invasive plant species on LUREC. Invasive species physically push out native plants and poison soil to prevent them from growing again, according to Mitten. He said invasive plants are cut down and herbicides prevent them from growing back.
Restoration efforts began in 2010 when Loyola purchased LUREC, according to Mitten.
Bee populations have been declining in high numbers, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Some beekeepers saw losses of as much as 90 percent of their hives starting in 2006. Factors associated to the deaths include harmful pesticide use and disease. But scientists haven’t determined a certain cause, according to the EPA.
A study by the United States Department of Agriculture shows that colony loss from April 2014 to April 2015 was 42.1 percent. The previous year’s losses were 34.2 percent.
A study by the Center for Biological Diversity looked at data on more than 1,000 bee species in North America, and more than half had declining populations.
Mitten said bees and other pollinators play an important role in food production.
“All pollinators are important to preserve because if we don’t have them, there goes our food source,” Mitten said. “All our agriculture and food supply is based on the bees and other pollinators [doing] their work.”
The rusty patched bumblebee is the first bumblebee to be placed on the endangered species list, according to the USFWS.
White said adding it to the list is an important step in helping its preservation.
“I think it’s good because it’s getting them attention,” White said. “I want to see more conservation action towards pollinators [and] that’s why I’m happy to see it on there.”
Lammers-Campbell said visitors at the retreat center are encouraged to keep their eyes out for the bee.
“Now, whenever students go out we give them a chart of bumblebees showing how you identify them … and ask people to look for them,” Lammers-Campbell said. “People are paying a lot more attention to the bumblebees at LUREC.”
Loyola student Alexandra Porcaro, 21, said she hopes Loyola will look for ways to help boost the population of the rusty patched bumblebee.
“We should try to foster an environment where they can thrive,” said the senior English and psychology double major. “The first step would be looking at research and what does help bee populations grow and if our environment on [LUREC] is measuring up to that or not.”