Fireflies Face Extinction From Habitat Loss, Light Pollution and Pesticides, Study Says
Human activity threatens to make summer nights a little less magical.
A study published in BioScience Monday set out to assess the greatest threats to the world's approximately 2,000 species of fireflies. While very little population data exists for most species of the "iconic" glowing beetles, researchers in the field have observed a decline in recent years.
According to a Tufts University-led team of biologists associated with the International Union for the Conservation… https://t.co/CbObfkRmJx— Tufts University (@Tufts University)1580845620.0
"We looked around and said, 'huh, there just don't seem to be as many fireflies around as there used to be,'" lead study author and Tufts University biology professor Sara Lewis, who has spent her career studying the mating rituals of a few firefly species, told Popular Science.
So the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) established a Firefly Specialist Group in 2018 to assess the glowing insects' conservation status. As part of that work, they sent out a survey to 350 members of the Fireflyers International Network asking them the chief risks faced by the species they studied.
The answer? Habitat loss, artificial light and pesticides, in that order.
However, some firefly species are particularly vulnerable because they require very specific conditions. The Malaysian firefly Pteroptyx tener, famous for its synchronized light shows, needs mangroves to flourish. Previous research had noted the species' decline due to the clearing of mangroves to plant palm oil plantations and aquaculture farms.
Artificial light is a major problem for fireflies because they use their famous bioluminescence to find mates, and bright human lights can disrupt these courtship signals.
"In addition to disrupting natural biorhythms – including our own – light pollution really messes up firefly mating rituals," study coauthor and Tufts PhD candidate Avalon Owens explained in the press release.
The use of agricultural pesticides like organophosphates and neonicotinoids threatens fireflies, especially during their larval stages, when they spend as many as two years living below the ground or underwater. This makes them especially sensitive to pesticides that end up on lawns or in the soil, according to Popular Science.
While more specific research is needed on the impact of these chemicals on fireflies, the evidence suggests that they are harmful to the glowing bugs as they are to other insects, the Tufts release explained.
Indeed, the plight of fireflies is reflected across the insect class. A November 2019 study warned that 41 percent of insects are threatened with extinction, which could lead to an "insect apocalypse" with serious consequences for humans and other life on Earth.
Dave Goulson, the University of Sussex biology professor who authored that study, told CNN that the threats of habitat loss and pesticide use were also the leading causes of the overall insect decline.
"Of course fireflies are particularly vulnerable to light pollution, more so than perhaps any other insect group, so it makes sense that this also emerges as a major concern," Goulson said.
Lewis expressed hope that focusing the spotlight on fireflies could raise awareness about the plight of insects generally and build the will to save them.
"Fireflies are actually an insect that everybody can get behind," she told Popular Science.
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At first glance, you wouldn't think avocados and almonds could harm bees; but a closer look at how these popular crops are produced reveals their potentially detrimental effect on pollinators.
Migratory beekeeping involves trucking millions of bees across the U.S. to pollinate different crops, including avocados and almonds. Timothy Paule II / Pexels / CC0<p>According to <a href="https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/israeli-kitchen/beekeeping-how-to-keep-bees" target="_blank">From the Grapevine</a>, American avocados also fully depend on bees' pollination to produce fruit, so farmers have turned to migratory beekeeping as well to fill the void left by wild populations.</p><p>U.S. farmers have become reliant upon the practice, but migratory beekeeping has been called exploitative and harmful to bees. <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/10/health/avocado-almond-vegan-partner/index.html" target="_blank">CNN</a> reported that commercial beekeeping may injure or kill bees and that transporting them to pollinate crops appears to negatively affect their health and lifespan. Because the honeybees are forced to gather pollen and nectar from a single, monoculture crop — the one they've been brought in to pollinate — they are deprived of their normal diet, which is more diverse and nourishing as it's comprised of a variety of pollens and nectars, Scientific American reported.</p><p>Scientific American added how getting shuttled from crop to crop and field to field across the country boomerangs the bees between feast and famine, especially once the blooms they were brought in to fertilize end.</p><p>Plus, the artificial mass influx of bees guarantees spreading viruses, mites and fungi between the insects as they collide in midair and crawl over each other in their hives, Scientific American reported. According to CNN, some researchers argue that this explains why so many bees die each winter, and even why entire hives suddenly die off in a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder.</p>
Avocado and almond crops depend on bees for proper pollination. FRANK MERIÑO / Pexels / CC0<p>Salazar and other Columbian beekeepers described "scooping up piles of dead bees" year after year since the avocado and citrus booms began, according to Phys.org. Many have opted to salvage what partial colonies survive and move away from agricultural areas.</p><p>The future of pollinators and the crops they help create is uncertain. According to the United Nations, nearly half of insect pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, risk global extinction, Phys.org reported. Their decline already has cascading consequences for the economy and beyond. Roughly 1.4 billion jobs and three-quarters of all crops around the world depend on bees and other pollinators for free fertilization services worth billions of dollars, Phys.org noted. Losing wild and native bees could <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wild-bees-crop-shortage-2646849232.html" target="_self">trigger food security issues</a>.</p><p>Salazar, the beekeeper, warned Phys.org, "The bee is a bioindicator. If bees are dying, what other insects beneficial to the environment... are dying?"</p>
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