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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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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