Scientists Say Glacier Bugs Are In Hot Water And Need Protection

Nov 13, 2017

The two stoneflies live in in small streams flowing out of glaciers, but as glaciers disappear so do the insects' habitat.
Credit Joe Giersch of USGS

As climate change melts away glaciers, it’s also drying up the habitat of two insects who live in the cold mountain streams that flow out of those glaciers. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering whether to list them as endangered. According to the Fish and Wildlife biologist James Boyd, warming temperatures are causing the glacier stonefly and the meltwater lednian stonefly’s habitat to shrink and what’s left of it to become too hot.

“Water temperatures are likely going to rise in these streams because this is the alpine environment where there’s few to no trees for shade,” he said. “With these two species having such narrow thermal tolerances, it might not take much warming to totally push them out of those streams and extirpate them from those streams.”

The glacier stonefly now only survives near Glacier National Park and the meltwater lednian stonefly lives in Glacier, the Beartooth-Absorka Range and Grand Teton National Park. Boyd said the two species are a barometer for the effects of climate change on high mountain species.

“There’s aquatic insects that prey on both of these species, there’s, you know, birds and even some mammals do prey on them. So yeah, if these species were to disappear we’d certainly lose a food source for a lot of organisms in that environment.”

A final decision on whether to list the stoneflies was supposed to come last month but has been delayed until early next year. Boyd said the Fish and Wildlife Service is taking public comment through the end of November on whether to protect one or both of the insects under the Endangered Species Act.