An important link in the food chain has been placed on the endangered species list by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The rusty patched bumble bee was once plentiful, but now is “balancing precariously on the brink of extinction,” according to a news release from the service. According to FWS, it is the first bee of any kind in the contiguous 48 states to be declared endangered. “The rusty patched bumble bee is among a group of pollinators – including the monarch butterfly – experiencing serious declines across the country,” said Service Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius. “Why is this important? Pollinators are small but mighty parts of the natural mechanism that sustains us and our world. Without them, our forests, parks, meadows and shrublands, and the abundant, vibrant life they support, cannot survive, and our crops require laborious, costly pollination by hand.” It wasn’t long ago that the bee was common in 28 states from Connecticut to South Dakota, but since the 1990s, the population has plunged 87 percent “leaving small, scattered populations in 13 states and one [Canadian] province.” The FWS says the bee is responsible for pollinating a wide variety of plants, including tomatoes, cranberries and peppers. They estimate the financial value of bees is $3 billion in the U.S. The reasons for the decline are many, according to the FWS, and include loss of habitat, disease, parasites, pesticides and climate change. There are some things that people can do to try to help the rusty patched bumble bee, including planting native flowers, limiting use of pesticides and leaving “grass and garden plants uncut after summer to provide habitat for overwintering bees.” “The rusty patched bumble bee once lived in grasslands and prairies of the Upper Midwest and Northeast, but many of those areas are gone,” FWS said in its news release. “The bee gathers pollen and nectar from a variety of flowering plants. It emerges in early spring and is one of the last bumble bee species to go into hibernation in the fall. Because it is active so long, it needs a constant supply of flowers blooming from April through September.”