The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has proposed listing a species of bumblebee as an endangered species, the first bee species to be granted such federal protection in the continental United States.

The rusty patched bumblebee – the workers of which can be identified by a small rust-colored mark on the middle of their second abdominal segment – was historically widespread along the east coast of North America, from Quebec down to Georgia, and across much of the midwest as far west as the Dakotas. However, says USFWS, since the late 1990s, the species’ numbers have decreased precipitously, and its range is now a mere 8 percent of its historical extent.

According to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, the bee faces numerous threats from disease, pesticides, habitat loss, and climate change. The society says that the species’ recent decline — and that of other, closely related, bumblebees — was likely initiated by the spread of pathogens from commercial bees (which are raised and sold to pollinate greenhouse tomatoes and other crops) into the wild population.

Additionally, there’s concern over the widespread use of neonicotinoid insecticides within the species’ range. These insecticides have been implicated in declines of other bee species and were introduced around the time that the rusty patched bumblebee entered its downward spiral. The USFWS finding also concluded that problems such as habitat loss and fragmentation and climate change may also be contributory factors.

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