Protection Sought for Rare Stonefly Found Only in Glacier National Park: Aquatic insect reliant on glacial meltwater will likely disappear when the glaciers do

By: New West Staff, New West
December 30th, 2010

Extinction and danger to animals that rely on the existence of Glaciers in Glacier National Park could start with a tiny and rare insect, the western glacier stonefly, which is known to live only in five small streams west of the Continental Divide in the park.

Today, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation filed a petition with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to give Endangered Species Act protection to the aquatic insect facing extinction.

Accelerated glacial melt spurred by climate change endangers the meltwater the insect needs to survive and it’s predicted that when the 25 remaining glaciers in the park (down from 150 in 1850) disappear by 2030, so too will the stonefly.

“Without major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, researchers predict that more than one third of all plants and animals will go extinct by 2050,” said Sarah Foltz Jordan, a conservation associate with The Xerces Society. “This species is just one more example of why we need to address climate change before it is too late.”

Since 1900, the mean annual temperature in Glacier National Park has increased by about 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit — nearly two times the global mean temperature increase.

“The loss of glaciers in Glacier National Park makes clear that climate change is happening now,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The impending loss of the western glacier stonefly is a harbinger of change that will result in the loss of millions of species, disruption of food production, loss of water storage in mountain glaciers, flooding of coastal areas and other impacts that threaten our very way of life.”

The western glacier stonefly is described as an indicator species of the health of its freshwater habitats. Stoneflies are extremely sensitive to changes in water quality and are among the first organisms to disappear from degraded rivers and streams. They play a significant role in many aquatic ecosystems, decomposing leaves and other organic material and forming the base of the aquatic food chain.

Fly fishers have long recognized the important role stoneflies play in providing nutrients for fish. Despite their importance, these insects are one of the most imperiled groups of animals in North America: More than 40 percent of all stoneflies are considered vulnerable to extinction.

The Montana Field Guide lists the western glacier stonefly among seven species of globally-rare insects within Glacier National Park that will be adversely affected when the glaciers have completely melted. It also lists the meltwater lednian and northern rocky mountains refugium stoneflies as “species of concern.”

Read the article at New West