The petition for listing the stonefly insect under the endangered species act was put on a hold after Lusha Tronstad, an invertebrate zoologist with the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database(WYNDD) and colleagues discovered a rare aquatic insect at the Grand Teton National Park.
“It was only known in Glacier National Park [Montana] but we got a report that they may live in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming,” Tronstad said.
For the last three summers, Tronstad and her colleagues went to Grand Teton and sampled a variety of alpine streams looking for the stonefly insect and finally found it in four different streams.
“Now in the whole world it tends to live in 13 streams,” Tronstad said.
Stoneflies are important biological indicators of water quality and play a beneficial role in the stream community by feeding on large pieces of detritus. They break down leaves that fill the glacier into smaller pieces and help in carbon cycles.
Stoneflies are usually found in aquatic habitats like streams formed by glacial meltwater with relatively high oxygen concentrations. Due to the immediate threat of extinction from global warming, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed the Endangered Species Act to protect the western glacier and meltwater lednian stonefly.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was supposed to make a decision on October whether or not we gonna list the stonefly and put it on the endangered species act list,” Tronstad said. “But, now they have put the decision on hold because they know they [the stonefly] also live in Wyoming.”
The research was a collaborative effort between Tronstad and her colleagues: Joe Giersch, an aquatic entomologist at the Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center with the U.S. Geological Survey; Scott Hotaling, a postdoctoral researcher at Washington State University; Deb Finn, an assistant professor of biology at Missouri State University.
They worked in Grand Teton for the first time in 2015 and collected stoneflies from six streams. They spent 10 days doing field work every summer.
“It is an excellent discovery for the invertebrate zoologist,” Bill Royce, majoring in Zoology, said. “It is keeping insects off the endangered list and that’s the most important thing these days, where global warming is eating up every habitat.”
Olive Wilmot, an invertebrate zoologist with the WYNDD, helped to identify the insect.
“I can identify two genus, so I separate the genera and then send a leg of that insect off to the lab to analyze [the] species cause they have to do genetic bar coding to actually identify the species,” Wilmot said. “There is no morphological features to look for, they are too closely related.”
The project was funded by the University of Wyoming National Park Service. They have supported the researchers for the last three years, providing $5,000 every year.
“Their habitat is vanishing,” Wilmot said. “They rely on streams that are fed like glaciers and so, when the glaciers are gone there is no more water, no more stuff. They can’t move higher because they are already at the top of the mountain.”