This project was funded through a co-operative agreement between the Alaska Center for Conservation Science – Zoology Program and The Alaska Department of Fish and Game – Threatened, Endangered and Diversity Program
The status and trends of pollinating insects is an increasing ecological and economic concern nationally and globally. Due to mounting conservation concerns, a Presidential Memorandum was issued in 2014 to promote the health of pollinators. While threats from pesticide application and large-scale habitat conversion are not large in Alaska, many species may be vulnerable in the face of changing climates, alternation in plant communities and habitats, and disease. One bumble bee in Alaska, Bombus occidentalis, has declined across its range and has been petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Other species have narrow host specificity or nesting requirements. For example, the larval host plants of the yellow Apollo butterfly (Parnassius eversmanni) are restricted to three plant species in Alaska that are rarely abundant.
For the majority of bumble bee species in Alaska, baseline information on distribution, relative abundance, and habitat associations are incomplete (however, see Philip and Ferris 2016). Synthesis of existing data and targeted surveys can yield substantial information at the state level. In collaboration with the University of Alaska Fairbanks, we have initiated efforts to collate existing bumble bee and butterfly occurrence records in Alaska and assign conservation status ranks that adhere to protocols developed by NatureServe. Below, we summarize global and state level ranks of 23 bumble bees and 21 butterflies known to occur in Alaska based on existing museum and academic institution records.
Evidence for declines is lacking for a majority of bee species and implementing monitoring practices are essential for detecting declines. Additionally, a rigorous and repeatable monitoring program will allow us to document bee species diversity, abundance, and spatio-temporal trends in specific ecosystems. Prior surveys in Alaska have proven highly productive, but only concentrated on bumblebees. For example, recent surveys discovered a bumble bee species, Bombus distinguendus, in Alaska that was thought to only occur in Eurasia. This species is known from just three records in Alaska. In early 2016, the only Alaskan endemic lepidopteran, Oeneis tanana (Warren et al., 2016) was described as a new species, known only from the Tanana Valley in interior Alaska. In 2017 we initiated a native bee monitoring program in rare steppe-bluffs of Eastern Interior Alaska. This ecosystem is thought to support high pollinator diversity. Surveys will be conducted during the spring and summer months to evaluate temporal trends in bee diversity and abundance across microsites. Overall, these targeted surveys will contribute to the growing knowledge base of Alaska’s pollinator community to guide conservation and management policy in Alaska.