Fireflies’ Glow Could Soon Be Extinguished by Human Actions
By Jessica A. Knoblauch
Say goodbye to one of the dreamiest things about childhood. In the Midwest, fireflies are dying off.
For many Americans, it's hard to imagine summer nights without the magical glow of dozens of bioluminescent bodies fluttering above the grasses and fields, and lighting up the dark skies above.
But the die-offs aren't just limited to fireflies — or to the American heartland. As anyone who's been paying attention to the news this summer knows, species across the globe are taking a nosedive toward extinction. The United Nations report on biodiversity that came out in May is just the latest assessment to warn that the health of our ecosystems is "deteriorating more rapidly than ever."
Humans are largely to blame. By spraying toxic pesticides, polluting our air and water, degrading the landscape, and emitting ever more carbon, we've essentially captured nature in a big glass Mason jar, screwed the lid tight, and neglected to punch holes in the top. According to the UN report, these unsustainable actions are causing nature to decline at unprecedented rates and accelerating the rate of species' extinction. Around 1 million animal and plant species — more than ever before in human history — are now threatened with extinction, many within decades.
Scientists say that the estimated 2,000 species of fireflies have been declining for years. Losing these glowing creatures, also known as "lightning bugs" in some parts of the U.S., robs future generations of one of the simplest and most pleasurable joys of childhood. It also robs doctors and researchers of a valuable diagnostic tool. By injecting chemicals found in a firefly's tail into human cells, researchers can detect diseases like cancer and muscular dystrophy.
On a broader scale, losing plant and animal species at an accelerated rate threatens "the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide," warn the UN researchers. Up to $577 billion in annual global crops are at risk from pollinator loss alone.
Yet there's still time — just barely — to turn things around.
At Earthjustice, our attorneys have fought for decades to protect endangered species big and small from harm. Just recently, we successfully defended against attempts by developers to remove endangered species protections for the California gnatcatcher. This adorable little songbird lives in the rapidly declining sagebrush habitat unique to coastal southern California and northern Baja California, which is also home to many other species.
Of course, we know it's not enough to address the extinction crisis bird by bird. The UN report recommends a transformative societal shift toward an economic model where we value nature by restoring, conserving, and using it sustainably. That's why Earthjustice is also tackling the extinction crisis at a broader level.
In the courts, we're defending core conservation laws like the Endangered Species Act, which has a 99 percent success rate in stopping species' extinction. On the Hill, we're supporting bold ideas like the Green New Deal, which lays out a vision for systemic change that matches the scale of the environmental crisis.
We already have many of the legal and policy tools needed to stop a mass extinction. Now we must push for the political will to open the jar and set loose a just and sustainable future for all.
Jessica A. Knoblauch is a former award-winning journalist. She enjoys wild places and dispensing justice, so she considers her job here to be a pretty amazing fit.
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Where Does the Deficiency Begin?<p>Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. The question of when a deficiency starts is correspondingly controversial. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular.Not only is the pseudo-scientific literature on the "sun vitamin" experiencing an upswing, but the number of published studies has also increased enormously in recent years. For example, in 2019 <a href="https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/40/4/1109/5126915" target="_blank">a study found that</a> Vitamin D is responsible for keeping the skeleton functional and is associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. <br></p>
An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
Low Vitamin D, Severe COVID-19 Disease?<p>A research study carried out <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352364620300067?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">at the University of Hohenheim</a> has now established a link between vitamin D deficiency, certain previous diseases, and severe cases of COVID-19.</p><p>According to the study, "there is a lot of evidence that several non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with low vitamin D plasma levels. These comorbidities, together with the often accompanying vitamin D deficiency, increase the risk of severe COVID-19 events."</p><p>"This statement is completely correct," said Martin Fassnacht, head of endocrinology at the University Hospital of Würzburg. However, he qualifies that it is a pure association, "i.e. a mere observation that these events occur together.</p><p>Dr. Fassnacht is very critical of the hype surrounding vitamin D, but not because he denies the vitamin serves important functions. However, studies on humans have not been able to show that vitamin D has the healing powers many often propagate.</p><p>Fassnacht says, "If you take a closer look, the hopes that the administration of vitamin D has a healing effect have not been confirmed so far."</p>
Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
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