Candace Fallon, Senior Conservation Biologist, The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
(503) 212-0788; [email protected]
Anna Walker, Species Survival Officer for Invertebrates, New Mexico BioPark Society
(505) 768-3702; [email protected]
Sara Lewis, IUCN SSC Firefly Specialist Group Co-Chair, Tufts University
(617) 627-3548; [email protected]
PORTLAND, Ore.; Wednesday, November 17, 2021 – A new study published today in PLOS ONE is the first to examine the conservation status of fireflies in the U.S. and Canada, a region home to 169 described firefly species.
Researchers from the Xerces Society, the ABQ, and the IUCN Firefly Specialist Group evaluated the extinction risk of 132 species (77% of the described fireflies in these two countries) using the criteria of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, which provides a growing inventory of species and their extinction risks.
The researchers found that 18 species (14% of those assessed) are threatened with extinction, including the Bethany Beach firefly, which was petitioned for Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing in 2019 and has been categorized as Critically Endangered. Another ten species have been categorized as Endangered, and seven as Vulnerable. Two species were categorized as Near Threatened, meaning they may be vulnerable to extinction in the near future.
Approximately one third of the species assessed (32%) were categorized as Least Concern; these species are thought to be plentiful in the wild and do not qualify as threatened or near threatened. The remaining species—over half of all those assessed—were categorized as Data Deficient, meaning insufficient data were available to assign an extinction risk category. If these data deficient species follow the same pattern as species with sufficient data, then as many as 29% of assessed species may be threatened with extinction.
Many of the threatened and data deficient species have narrow geographic ranges, specific habitat requirements, and life history traits such as flightless females or bioluminescent courtship behaviors that make them more vulnerable to extinction. Although the threats for each species vary, the primary drivers of decline appear to be habitat loss and degradation, light pollution, and climate change. For example, the Florida intertidal firefly has been eradicated from multiple sites due to the loss of its coastal salt marsh and mangrove habitat; it is also threatened by light pollution and pesticides. The sky island firefly, which is associated with freshwater springs in the mountains of western Texas, is threatened by drought, light pollution, and development of its habitat for oil and gas extraction.
“Clearly there is a need for increased firefly conservation efforts in the U.S. and Canada,” said Candace Fallon, a senior conservation biologist and firefly program lead at the Xerces Society and lead author of the paper. “This study has helped us identify which species are most in need of surveys and habitat protection efforts, thus laying the groundwork for future conservation projects.”
Priority conservation actions identified in the paper include protecting at-risk species, preserving and restoring firefly habitat, conducting surveys and monitoring known populations, filling critical data gaps, and engaging and educating others about fireflies and their needs. But there are small steps that anyone can take.
“Fortunately, we can all contribute to firefly conservation. Turning off artificial lights at night, participating in community science initiatives, and spreading the word about firefly declines are easy first steps,” said Anna Walker, Species Survival Officer for Invertebrates at the New Mexico BioPark Society and a coauthor on the paper.
“These Red List assessments are exciting, because now we can focus our conservation efforts on protecting the most vulnerable U.S. fireflies,” said Sara Lewis, the IUCN SSC Firefly Specialist Group co-chair and another coauthor on the paper. “And the good news is that we already have all the knowledge we need to help keep the firefly magic alive.”
Fallon, C.E., A. Walker, S. Lewis, J. Cicero, L. Faust, C.M. Heckscher, C.X. Perez-Hernandez, B. Pfeiffer, S. Jepsen. 2021. Evaluating firefly extinction risk: Initial Red List assessments for North America. PLOS ONE. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0259379
For more information about the Red List assessments that informed this paper, read our blog post.
To learn more about the life history and conservation status of fireflies in the US and Canada, visit the Xerces Society’s website, www.xerces.org/fireflies.
About the Xerces Society
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation 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 protecting pollinators and many other invertebrates. Our team draws together experts from the fields of habitat restoration, entomology, plant ecology, education, pesticides, farming and conservation biology with a single passion: Protecting the life that sustains us. To learn more, visit xerces.org or follow us @xercessociety on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.
About the ABQ BioPark
Located along the Rio Grande River near downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico, ABQ BioPark consists of: The ABQ BioPark Zoo, Botanic Garden, Aquarium and Tingley Beach. Welcoming more than 1.3 million visitors per year, we are the top tourist destination in the state of New Mexico and a critical resource for education and conservation in the Southwest US. Through captive breeding programs, large-scale freshwater fish rearing and reintroduction, habitat restoration initiatives, and seed banking, ABQ BioPark is committed to building sustainable conservation initiatives that benefit New Mexico and the world. ABQ BioPark supports conservation measures within the Assess, Plan, Act model by contributing directly to research, providing technical and logistical support for the IUCN SSC, and engaging in direct conservation action. The New Mexico BioPark Society (NMBPS), the nonprofit support organization for the ABQ BioPark, funds the Red List partnership in its entirety and employs three species survival officers at the ABQ BioPark. To learn more about the ABQ BioPark, visit their website, or follow them on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. For more information on NMBPS, visit www.bioparksociety.org.
About the IUCN SSC Firefly Specialist Group
The IUCN SSC Firefly Specialist Group works to identify key threats and conservation issues facing fireflies in different geographic regions, and advocates for the most threatened species at national and global levels.