Endangered Species: Insects Endangered

On earth there are nearly twenty times more known insect species than known vertebrate species. However, there more than eighty percent fewer insects than vertebrates on the endangered species list in the United States (U.S). The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was introduced in December of 1973 and allows a species to be listed as endangered and available for protection as long as it meets any of five certain factors which are:

  1. Present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range;
  2. Over utilization of the species for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes;
  3. Disease or predation;
  4. Nadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms;
  5. Other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence. (Houck 1993)

Farming and other types of agriculture, deforestation for commercial use, certain types of outdoor activity, and pollution by human waste products are all common causes of habitat destruction. Insects often have very specific living conditions, and they are very susceptible to any sort of changes that humans impose on their habitats. (ESA position) Humans have been known to force insect species into extinction even before todays modern age. When humans first started expanding over San Francisco three butterfly species were pushed to extinction. Studies have shown that insect species are richer in diversity and number in older forests compared to younger forests, however, there are less than ten percent of native forests remaining in the U.S, and as more forests are destroyed some species are bound to accompany them.

European beech forests represent an ecosystem stretching from the Mediterranean region all the way to Scandinavia. Studies have shown that habitat modification and destruction may be responsible for species decline relating to carabid, or ground beetles. One species in particular, Carabus olympiae Sella, is an endangered species that inhabits these beech forests. They are limited to two neighboring beech forests, measuring only a few hectares each, in the western Italian Alps. Even after receiving protection, they still are facing danger due to the construction of downhill skiing facilities. (Negro et. al. 2017) Even an activity that may not initially seem harmful due to it being held in places specifically meant for it, such as off-roading in vehicles, can have a devastating impact on local niches in an environment. (Resh and Carde. 2009)

In todays age international travel is something that can happen in a single day. While that seems good for humanity, as a whole it can provide some interesting problems for other forms of life. Introduced, or invasive species, of plants can come into a habitat and choke out native plants, which is a bad thing due to the fact that many insects are somewhat specialized for certain environments and if the environment changes they may no longer be suited to survive in that environment. Present examples include the decline of Bombus vosnesenkii, Yellow-Faced Bumble Bee. It has been shown in a study that B. vosnesenkii selects native species significantly more often when pollinating .(Shalene et al. 2013) Euphydryas editha taylori, Taylors Checkerspot butterflies, are impacted by an introduced plant species, Plantago lanceolota, brought by European settlers. P. lanceolota outcompetes all native species, thus reducing the total biomass that E. e. taylori larvae have to feed on. (Buckingham, Dennis Aubrey et. al. 2016) Along with introduced species comes new diseases that can de absolutely debilitating. Not all introduction is accidental, there are instances where non-native insects have been released to act as pest control, which without extensive research and small scale studies, can and have proven to be disastrous. (Resh and Carde. 2009)

Insects inhabit every available, livable area on planet earth. No matter where humans go to try and develop land for living purposes, commercial purposes, etc., they are displacing insects. A threat for some insects in industrialized areas that are found along coastal regions is the introduction of coastal protection programs and floodplain regulation, which often do not take into account the fact that many insects inhabit these areas. (Groling et. al. 2007) On average it takes 12.25 years for an insect to be proposed to be put on the endangered species list and actually be listed, compared to an average time as low as 7.85 years for some mammals. (Puckett et al. 2016) This is a very large difference and, as mentioned earlier, insects are very sensitive to changes in environment, and if a change in environment by humans is the cause for an insect to be needed to get added to the endangered list 12.25 years may be too long for a particular environment and species to survive. Bees and farmers have a relationship that can be vey tumultuous. Farmers rely on many insects to pollinate crops; however, they must also use insecticides to help keep the crops healthy; this is sometimes detrimental to entire hives. There are at least 30 species of bees on the endangered watch list, and while they are not all there because of insecticide use, a portion of them are.

One reason for the lack of insects being protected under law is due to the general publics’ misunderstanding, fear, or disgust of insects. Many times insects are underappreciated, although, they have the greatest diversity among the animal kingdom, and if one is able to the past pre conceived notions of disgust it may be easier to convince themselves that creatures are worth protecting and deserve to be more focused on. While it may be slightly easier to rally people around a cause of helping to protect an insect we view as beautiful, such as butterflies, there is a need to protect the “gross” bugs which do the dirty work of helping decompose matter and recycle the ecosystem. The diversity of insects can be viewed as a good thing, but it also presents its problems to people hoping to help conserve them. Due to the sheer number of insect species and just how diverse they are from each other it can be hard to come up with plans to protect all the different species of insects. (Leandro et al. 2017)

There are regulatory mechanisms and recovery plans being made for some endangered species. One example is Necrophorous americanus Oliver, the American Burying Beetle. It was once distributed all through temperate eastern Northern America, it now persists in only two widely separated populations: a small, but stable population in Rhode Island, and a widespread population in eastern Oklahoma. The criteria for achieving recovery of the species are: maintaining the two current populations, while at least two additional self sustaining populations of at least five hundred beetles are are established, with one being on the eastern range and one being n the western range of the beetles’ previous range. Along with criteria needed to be reached to achieve recovery, there is also an action plan which includes: protecting and managing extant population, maintaining captive populations, continuing to try and reintroduce populations into new areas, conduct surveys to be well informed on populations, and continuing to search for more unknown populations. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services 1991.)

There would be no reason to repeal the Endangered Species Act, for it has been extremely successful in identifying many vertebrate species and properly protecting them; however, there is room for improvement when it comes to identifying and assessing the vulnerability of insects. Insects have the longest average wait time to arrive on the endangered species list, when in reality it should be just the opposite due to the sensitivity of insects to environmental changes and the amount of specialization insects exhibit to local environments. One of the largest reasons for extinctions in insects is loss of habitat, which is mainly due to deforestation, so while deforestation creates products necessary for human life we could improve upon our waste by recycling more and for all the deforestation we cause, plant trees to help build the forests back up.

Helping to introduce more viable regulatory mechanisms of already endangered populations, specifically geared for each individual species would, not only protect that species, but also create more job opportunities, further increasing public knowledge about the need of urgency to protect these insects.