PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN" ""> The Xerces Society May 16, 2008 - The Xerces Society
The Xerces Society May 16, 2008 - The Xerces Society

Declines in Insect Abundance and Diversity: We Know Enough to Act Now—New Paper Details Why We Need to Act to Protect Insects


Media Contacts:

Matthew Forister, McMinn Professor of Biology, University of Nevada, Reno; (775) 784-6770,

Scott Hoffman Black, Executive Director, The Xerces Society for invertebrate Conservation; (503) 449-3792,

Emma Pelton, Conservation Biologist, The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation; (503) 232-6639 ext. 102,

Declines in Insect Abundance and Diversity: We Know Enough to Act Now

New paper details why we need to act to protect insects.

PORTLAND, Ore.; June 24, 2019—On Saturday, June 22, the journal Conservation Science and Practice published a paper that makes the case for greater action to curb the global decline in insects. Insects are vital to life as we know it on this planet. The vast majority of bats, birds, and freshwater fish depend on insects, and humans depend on insect pollination for nutritious fruits and vegetables. Insects provide services of over $57 billion to the US economy. Although we need more study to understand the overall scope and scale of the declines, the research that has been done provides compelling evidence of declines in insect abundance, diversity, and biomass.

“There is no doubt that a great many insect populations and species are suffering and are in some form of decline,” said Matt Forister, McMinn Professor of Biology, University of Nevada, Reno. “Although there is a need for greater investment in basic science and further analyses of existing data, our belief is that the severity of reported insect declines is sufficient to warrant immediate action.”

In addition to the data supporting the decline of insect populations, patterns are emerging that point to the primary drivers of insect declines. The most influential factors are habitat loss and degradation, pesticides, and climate change, although other factors include disease, invasive species, and light pollution.

“There are many factors leading to the decline in insects,” said Emma Pelton, endangered species conservation biologist and western monarch lead for the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. “Even though there are still unknowns, taking action to restore, enhance, and protect habitat and curbing pesticides has been shown to help insect populations.”

The paper not only presents the problem, but also provides examples of success stories in insect conservation, from both terrestrial and aquatic environments spanning three continents. The authors also propose actions that can be taken to address insect declines, which can be implemented by various societal sectors including nations, states, provinces and cities, working lands, natural areas, and homes and gardens.

“If we hope to stem the losses of insect diversity and the services they provide, society must take steps at all levels to protect, restore, and enhance habitat for insects across landscapes—from wildlands to farmland to urban cores,” said Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Xerces Society. “But there is hope because everyone can make a difference. Farmers can add additional habitat and curb pesticide use, governments can make climate adaptation a goal, and even a backyard or apartment balcony can be an important stopover for the smallest of animals upon which we all depend.”



About the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation

The Xerces Society is an international nonprofit organization that protects the natural world by conserving invertebrates and their habitat. Established in 1971, the Society is a trusted source for science-based information and advice and plays a leading role in promoting the conservation of pollinators and many other invertebrates. We collaborate with people and institutions at all levels, and our work to protect bees, butterflies, and other pollinators encompasses all landscapes. Our team draws together experts from the fields of habitat restoration, entomology, plant ecology, education, farming, and conservation biology with a single passion: Protecting the life that sustains us.

To learn more about our work, please visit or follow @xercessociety on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

University of Nevada, Reno

Nevada’s land-grant university founded in 1874, the University of Nevada, Reno ranks in the top tier of best national universities by U.S. News and World Report and is steadily growing in enrollment, excellence, and reputation. The University serves more than 21,000 students. Part of the Nevada System of Higher Education, the University is home to the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and Wolf Pack Athletics. Through a commitment to world-improving research, student success, and outreach benefiting the communities and businesses of Nevada, the University has impact across the state and around the world. For more information, visit

Emergency Endangered Species Act Protection Sought for Delaware Firefly

Media Contacts:

Candace Fallon, Senior Endangered Species Conservation Biologist and Public Lands Lead, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation,  (954) 815-5429,
Tara Cornelisse, Senior Scientist, Center for Biological Diversity, (971) 717-6425,

For Immediate Release

BETHANY BEACH, Del.; May 15, 2019The Center for Biological Diversity and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation filed an emergency petition today seeking Endangered Species Act protection for the critically imperiled Bethany Beach firefly.

The rare firefly has been documented at only seven sites along the Delaware coast  virtually all of them smaller than a football field. The wetland area that is home to the firefly’s largest-remaining population is currently being developed.

If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grants the emergency request it would be the first time Endangered Species Act protections have been awarded to one of the nation’s approximately 170 firefly species.

“Without immediate protections, the magical green flashes known to generations of children will be snuffed out forever,” said Dr. Tara Cornelisse, an entomologist who is a senior scientist at the Center. “We can’t stand by and let development, climate change and pesticides wipe out these amazing creatures, along with their wetland homes that many species depend on.”

The Bethany Beach firefly has been pushed to the brink of extinction by urbanization, light pollution, habitat fragmentation, pesticides and climate change-induced sea-level rise and storm surges.

The firefly has nearly disappeared from three of its seven remaining sites. Six of the firefly’s seven remaining populations are in state parks, but only a single firefly was found at two of those sites during the most recent survey.

“We’re on the brink of losing a unique piece of Delaware’s biodiversity, one that symbolizes the very habitats that have drawn so many people to this state in the first place,” said Candace Fallon, petition coauthor and senior conservation biologist at the Xerces Society. “There’s no question that this firefly urgently needs our help to prevent it from going extinct.”

Ongoing construction at the Tower Shores development continues to destroy important habitat for the firefly’s strongest remaining population. Loss of that population would greatly lessen the species’ chances of survival because these fireflies are weak fliers and rarely disperse beyond the habitat in which they were born.

When a population is lost it severely decreases connectivity between habitats, potentially reducing the number of mates available and, in turn, the number of eggs laid by females.


The Bethany Beach firefly is only found within 1,500 feet of the shore, making its habitat extremely vulnerable to rising sea levels and increases in storm surges caused by climate change. The combination of higher water levels near housing developments and popular recreation areas has resulted in frequent spraying of pesticides to control mosquitoes with chemicals toxic to fireflies.

The Bethany Beach firefly flies at full darkness so that females can spot and blink in response to a male’s bright double green flash. After mating the females will continue to flash, but this time mimicking other firefly species to lure in males to eat them and gain their valuable protective toxins. These mating signals can be disrupted by habitat changes, and light pollution can change their courtship behavior and mating success.

Firefly larvae sometimes hunt communally, and feed on slugs, snails, earthworms and other insects by injecting paralyzing fluid before consuming their prey.

Fireflies live on every continent except Antarctica. But just as in Delaware, many of their populations are threatened by habitat destruction, light pollution, climate change and pesticides.







The Xerces Society is a nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat. Established in 1971, the Society is a trusted source for science-based information and advice. We collaborate with people and institutions at all levels and our work to protect pollinators encompasses all landscapes. Our team draws together experts from the fields of habitat restoration, entomology, botany and conservation biology with a single passion: protecting the life that sustains us. To learn more about our work, please visit or follow us @xercessociety on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.


The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Available Photos

Announcing the 2019 DeWind Awardees

The Xerces Society has always been a champion for butterflies; not only are we named after a butterfly, but also butterfly conservation formed our very foundation. As a recipient of a Fulbright-Hays scholarship to Britain in the 1970s, a young Robert Michael Pyle was inspired by a talk he heard about the endangered large blue (Maculinea arion) in England. The US had lost its own blue butterfly, the Xerces blue (Glaucopsyche xerces), and Bob was determined to take action to ensure other butterflies did not follow the same fate. Ideas took root on a train ride following the talk, and over the next few weeks and months connections were made, plans developed, and the Xerces Society blossomed. Over the years, the organization’s work expanded to include other terrestrial insects like moths and bees, and we now work on behalf of all invertebrates, including everything from bumble bees and other pollinators to stoneflies, fireflies, and freshwater mussels.

Joan Mosenthal Dewind

Joan Mosenthal Dewind.

However, back in the 1970s, our focus was butterflies. The Xerces Society was powered in those fledgling years by an eclectic group of passionate conservationists. One of our pioneering members, Joan Mosenthal DeWind, was an avid butterfly gardener and accomplished amateur lepidopterist. A psychiatric social worker by day, in her spare time Joan championed butterfly conservation and strove to engage the next generation of butterfly enthusiasts. Joan and her husband Bill DeWind—a New York activist attorney—played an integral role in Xerces’ early years as a developing organization, with Joan serving as secretary, Bill providing legal advice, and both of them joining fundraising fieldtrips. Joan was also a talented artist and writer, and she and Jo Brewer, one of Xerces’ cofounders, often conspired together on early publications.

Throughout her life, Joan was known for her generosity. After she passed away in 1997, Bill established a research endowment fund in her name and asked Xerces to manage a grant program that would support student research to advance the conservation of butterflies and moths around the world. This grant—the Joan Mosenthal DeWind Award—has been given to at least two students every year since the program launched in 1999. In total, 44 students have been recipients of Bill and Joan’s generosity.

The requirements for the DeWind award are broad: applicants must be engaged in research leading to a university degree related to Lepidoptera conservation, with the intention to continue in this path after graduation. The proposal period opens around the beginning of November each year and closes two months later. During this time, applications come in from all over the world for a wide variety of projects. Our DeWind committee, made up of university professors and researchers who work closely in the Lepidoptera conservation world, reviews each of the proposals and ranks them based on quality of science and impact on Lepidoptera conservation. Award winners are selected and notified in the spring.

cranberry blue (Plebejus optilete ssp. yukona). Federico Riva.

Federico Riva, a 2017 Dewind awardee, had his paper “Distribution of Cranberry Blue Butterflies (Agriades optilete) and Their Responses to Forest Disturbance from In Situ Oil Sands and Wildfires” published in fall 2018 in the journal Diversity. (Photo: Federico Riva)

Previous DeWind awardees have studied everything from climate change effects on geometrid moths to mutualistic relationships between ants and blue butterflies. Research projects may take place in the field, the lab, or a combination of the two. Funded work has taken place across a broad geographic and ecological scope, as awardees have hailed not only from the US and Canada but from Brazil, Singapore, and the Czech Republic. It is exciting to review the breadth of proposed projects each year, to see trends in research topics and integration of new techniques and information. Our hope has always been that the work supported by the DeWind award will have broad implications for Lepidoptera conservation—students tackling big questions with real-world solutions.

The DeWind committee has wrapped up their reviews of this year’s proposals, and the Xerces Society is happy to announce the two recipients of our 2019 awards.

Niranjana Krishnan, a PhD candidate at Iowa State University, will receive an award for her project “Assessing the risk of insecticides to monarch butterflies.” Monarch butterfly populations have declined precipitously in the last few decades, resulting in a nationwide call to action to protect monarch resources and plant additional milkweed (the monarch’s host plant) in important breeding areas. Agricultural regions of the Midwest have been identified as particularly important breeding grounds for the monarch’s eastern population, yet relatively little is known about how agricultural pesticides affect monarchs. Knowing where and how to incorporate milkweed in this landscape will be a critical component of this species’ recovery plan. Krishnan will use funds from the DeWind award to evaluate the toxicity and exposure of agricultural insecticides to various life stages of monarch butterflies, using the information gleaned to help identify ideal locations for plantings.

Niranjana Krishnan, 2019 Dewind Awardee

Niranjana Krishnan, a PhD candidate at Iowa State University, is a 2019 Dewind awardee for her project “Assessing the risk of insecticides to monarch butterflies.” (Image courtesy of Niranjana Krishnan)

Our second awardee, Molly Wiebush, is a master’s student at Florida State University. Wiebush’s project, “The importance of small-scale fire refugia for butterfly communities in an old-growth longleaf pine savanna,” examines how these butterfly communities respond to unburned patches within prescribed burns. Do unburned patches (i.e., fire refugia) contribute to the persistence of butterflies in fire-adapted landscapes? How important is small-scale heterogeneity for butterfly survival under different fire scenarios? This project also has broad conservation implications, since it can inform best management practices for using prescribed fire as a conservation tool for Lepidoptera.

Molly Wiebush, 2019 Dewind Awardee

Molly Wiebush, a master’s student at Florida State University, is a 2019 Dewind awardee for her project, “The importance of small-scale fire refugia for butterfly communities in an old-growth longleaf pine savanna.” (Photo courtesy of Molly Wiebush)

The Xerces Society is proud to support young and early career researchers through Joan’s legacy. As a science-driven conservation organization, we take pride in engaging students in the scientific process while advancing our collective knowledge in support of Lepidoptera conservation efforts. It is our hope that the data collected for these projects do not end with the student’s thesis or dissertation; but rather that awardees will go on to publish their research in peer-reviewed journals, share and apply this knowledge where applicable, and pursue a career that continues to support conservation of this incredible group of animals.

If you are a student, or know a student who might be interested in this award, we encourage you to look out for our annual announcement, which goes out in late October or early November every year. This is posted on both the Xerces website and social media outlets, as well as on listservs such as Ecolog-L. To date, all but one recipient have been graduate students, but we encourage motivated undergrads whose studies could have broad impacts on Lepidoptera conservation to apply.

Dewind awardees often go on to publish their research in peer-reviewed journals including Conservation Biology, Ecology, Evolution, and the Journal of Insect Conservation. A growing list of publications by DeWind recipients is also available on our website.

Written by Candace Fallon, Xerces Society Senior Endangered Species Conservation Biologist and Public Lands Lead

Further Reading

Learn more about the DeWind Award, including application details and descriptions of past projects.

Learn more about the Xerces Society’s Endangered Species Program.

Click here to donate!

Xerces’ conservation work is powered by our donors. Your tax-deductible donation will help us to protect the life that sustains us.

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