Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Hine's Emeralds Now Being Reared

Courtesy of USFWS, photo by Paul Burton
One of the functions of the Endangered Species Act is to protect a species, and in doing so, find ways to counter a species' decline.  We know far more about Somatochlora hineana than ANY other Corduliidae, thanks to the ESA and funding for projects by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  Over the years, I think the various Hine's Emerald projects have done much to not just provide us with a wealth of new information, but it's also educated the USFWS about insect populations and how to work on non-charismatic invertebrates.  (I do not mean to imply that dragonflies lack charisma, but they are not soft and fuzzy, big-eyed vertebrates.) For too long, the USFWS seemed to equate invertebrate populations with that of something like a Piping Plover.  Some insects ARE extremely sensitive to disruption, have low vagility and small localized populations -- such as Mitchell's Satyr.  However, in the case of dragonflies, most are good fliers, have large clutch sizes, and are typically quite vagile.   In the case of Hine's Emerald, what we didn't know was due to it being (a) a dragonfly (b) the type locality's habitat was significantly changed shortly after the species was described and (c) few people working in the field.   With all of the research that has been done on Hine's since the mid-1990s, it's a safe bet that it THE most studied dragonfly in terms of habitat requirements, behavior, gene flow, and distribution.  Up until recently, the only thing that hadn't been done was rear them in the lab!

Dan Soluk, a long-time researcher of Hine's, has been rearing them at his lab at the Univ. of South Dakota - Story Here.  Some of the readers may remember Dan as coming up with the idea of sucking the water out of the crayfish burrows to search for the dragonfly nymphs.   Kudos to him and his crew on this latest development. An official USFWS release is here, and has more info than the AP story.

With so many populations being found in Missouri, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinios -- all on limestone-influenced  fens, I wonder if the species will have its threat status changed to threatened rather than endangered?   That would be the goal of any ESA program -- to reduce the threat to a species' existence.  In the case of S. hineana, it would seem that protecting the species may be the key to protecting the habitat.