WASHINGTON (AP) — With climate change threatening the sea ice habitat of Emperor penguins, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday announced a proposal to list the species as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
“The lifecycle of Emperor penguins is tied to having stable sea ice, which they need to breed, to feed and to molt,” said Stephanie Jenouvrier, a penguin ecologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
Research published Tuesday in the journal Global Change Biology found that by 2100, 98% of Emperor penguin colonies may be pushed to the brink of extinction, if no changes are made to current rates of carbon emissions and climate change.
Around 70% of colonies will be in danger sooner, by 2050.
The new study looked at overall warming trends and the increasing likelihood of extreme weather fluctuations due to global warming. And it noted that extremely low levels of sea ice in 2016 led to a massive breeding failure of an Emperor penguin colony in Antarctica’s Halley Bay.
That year, seasonal sea ice broke up before penguin chicks had time to develop waterproof adult feathers, and about 10,000 baby birds drowned, Jenouvrier said. The colony did not recover afterward.
Emperor penguins breed exclusively in Antarctica during winter. They endure temperatures of minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 40 degrees Celsius) and wind speeds approaching 90 miles (144 kilometers) per hour by huddling together in groups of several thousand birds. But they can’t survive without sufficient sea ice.
“These penguins are hard hit by the climate crisis, and the U.S. government is finally recognizing that threat,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity.
The U.S. government has previously listed species outside the country as threatened, including the polar bear, which lives in Arctic regions and is also imperiled by climate change and sea ice loss.
Emperor penguins — the world’s largest penguins — currently number about 270,000 to 280,000 breeding pairs, or 625,000 to 650,000 individuals. The proposed listing will be published in the Federal Register on Wednesday to open to a 60-day public comment period.
Listing the bird provides protections such as prohibition against importing them for commercial purposes. Potential impacts on penguins must also be evaluated by U.S. marine fisheries currently operating in Antarctica.
“Climate change, a priority challenge for this Administration, impacts a variety of species throughout the world,” said Martha Williams, principal deputy director of the wildlife service. “The decisions made by policymakers today and during the next few decades will determine the fate of the Emperor penguin.”
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
(CNN) — A species of tiny chameleons presumed to be extinct due to deforestation has been found, but it is clinging to survival.
Up to only 5.5 centimeters (2.2 inches) long, the critically endangered Chapman’s pygmy chameleon (Rhampholeon chapmanorum) is native to the low-elevation rainforest of the Malawi Hills in southern Malawi, a country in southeastern Africa, according to a study published Monday in Oryx—The International Journal of Conservation.
First described by herpetologist and author Colin Tilbury in 1992, Chapman’s pygmy chameleon is one of the world’s rarest chameleons.
“They are mostly brown but they can change to quite beautiful blues and greens with little dots all over them and that’s probably a way of communicating with each other,” said the study’s lead author Krystal Tolley, a professor and research leader in the Leslie Hill Molecular Ecology Laboratory at the South African National Biodiversity Institute, in a statement. “Other chameleon species can be hysterical, hissing and biting, but pygmy chameleons are gentle and just beautiful.”
Chameleons’ extinction risk is much higher than the average of 15% for the reptile order they belong to, with 34% of chameleon species classified as threatened and 18% near threatened, the authors wrote. Most of the threatened species are forest specialists, which means they can only live in a specific type of environment.
Survival through agricultural takeovers
When Tilbury first described pygmy chameleons in 1992, previous researchers noticed signs of substantial deforestation in Malawi Hills, wrote the authors of the current study. To protect the species from further harm, 37 Malawi Hills-based pygmy chameleons were released into a forest patch about 95 kilometers (59 miles) north in Mikundi, Malawi, in 1998, according to the study. When Tilbury assessed the release site in 2001 and 2012, chameleons were still there.
Because pygmy chameleons are intolerant of transformed areas and Tolley didn’t discover any pygmy chameleons during related assessment work in 2014, they were thought to have possibly become extinct. Her work led the International Union for Conservation of Nature to list the chameleons as critically endangered on its Red List of Threatened Species. Using historical (1984-1985) and recent (2019) Google Earth satellite imagery of the Malawi Hills and another geographical information system, the authors of the current study estimated about 80% of the Malawi Hills forest had been destroyed from 1984 to 2019.
At night on the trails of three accessible forest patches in 2016, the authors walked, using torchlights to find and record chameleons.
“The first one we found was in the transition zone on the forest edge, where there are some trees but mostly maize and cassava plants,” Tolley said. “When we found it we got goosebumps and just started jumping around. We didn’t know if we would get any more, but once we got into the forest there were plenty, although I don’t know how long that will last.”
The researchers found seven adult chameleons along a footpath just inside the first forest patch of Malawi Hills; 10 chameleons inside a site over 6 kilometers (4 miles) southwest of the first; and 21 adult chameleons plus 11 young and hatchlings inside the patch at Mikundi, the location of the 1998 release.
Pygmy chameleons still face threats
After snipping 2-millimeter-long (0.1-inch-long) tail clips from some adult chameleons, the authors did genetic analysis. The chameleons’ genetic diversity was normal in comparison to that of other chameleons and small-bodied reptile species, the authors found. But there were significant differences in genetic structure between populations in different areas, suggesting that humans fragmenting the forest patches had disrupted the breeding ability between chameleons on neighboring patches and therefore their gene flow — an impact that increases extinction risk due to fewer options for mates, the authors wrote.
However, the authors might have overestimated the amount of genetic diversity between populations by not accounting for the way that some DNA is inherited, said Eric Routman, a professor emeritus of biology at San Francisco State University, who wasn’t involved in the study.
“And even if they had lots of loci and good genetic estimates, they have no estimate of these genetic parameters before the habitat fragmentation, so they can’t attribute any genetic effect to deforestation,” Routman added via email. “If I had been reviewing this paper, I would have recommended major revisions to the manuscript. Essentially, the genetic part of their study is inconclusive.”
The authors think effects of deforestation on genetic diversity could take time to appear. But to prevent the chameleon species from reaching a point of no return, the rainforest loss requires immediate attention, Tolley said.
“Urgent conservation action is needed, including halting of forest destruction and recovery of habitat to promote connectivity. Although part of the Malawi Hills falls within a Key Biodiversity Area (Matandwe Forest Reserve), most of the forest falls outside the reserve boundary, and the effectiveness of the forest reserve is questionable, given that most of the destruction has been within its boundaries,” the authors wrote. “Although extending the reserve to encompass all the forest patches would be a first step, measures are needed to avert the destruction of the remaining patches.”
These efforts would be important also for any other species that possibly live among these chameleons, the authors wrote. And there could be more pygmy chameleons in the patches they weren’t able to explore, they said.
For the little creatures Polley described as gentle and beautiful, “both the planning and the recommended actions require strong leadership, personnel, stakeholder engagement, including with government departments, and sufficient funding to ensure success,” the authors added.
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INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department on Tuesday arrested a man involved in three Monday night robberies that happened on the south side.
According to IMPD, William Eland III was charged three counts of attempted robbery.
Police say the first robbery occurred at the BP gas station in the 4900 block of East Thompson Road just after midnight.
Shortly after 1:00 a.m., officers were dispatched to the 8000 block of South Emerson Avenue for a second robbery at the Speedway gas station.
Half an hour later, the third robbery was committed at a Shell gas station located in the 8900 block of South Emerson Avenue, according to police.
An officer was speaking with a victim when they had observed a man matching the description of the suspect given in all three robberies driving a black Kia Soul pulling into a parking lot.
Officers say additional information was given on scene that confirmed Eland III was the male they had observed.
Anyone with information about these incidents should call the IMPD Homicide/Robbery Office at 317-327-3475 or Crime Stoppers of Central Indiana at 317-262-8477.
(CNN) — The Tokyo Olympics officially kicked off this weekend, and on the face of it, the ratings for Friday’s opening ceremony looked like a flop.
According to early numbers, only 17 million people watched the opening ceremony on TV in the US. That’s down a sharp 36% from the Rio 2016 ceremony, which was itself the lowest rated since 1992.
That’s bad news for NBC, which has invested billions of dollars to license the Olympics over the next decade.
But dig a little deeper, and viewership wasn’t actually down as much as you’d think — underscoring that TV numbers no longer tell the whole story.
For example, the number of people streaming the Tokyo opening ceremony via NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app soared 72% compared to Rio.
So far viewers have streamed 371 million total minutes of Tokyo Olympics content on NBC’s various digital platforms combined, up 21% from the comparable time period for Rio, according to NBC.
While the network didn’t break out specific metrics for Peacock, NBC did say the service notched its “most-consumed Saturday ever.”
Unlike five years ago, streaming is no longer a secondary side business scooping up some extra viewers via websites and apps. It’s a major part of every media company’s plan and future, with NBC’s year-old Peacock streaming service just one of dozens. Audiences have multiple viewing options, from these premier streaming services to social media, and their viewing habits are changing.
The shift underscores the increasing fragmentation of the media space, which means TV alone may not draw the huge numbers it once did — even for a monster event like the Olympics. That hardly means people aren’t watching, and because NBC is hoping the Olympics will boost signups and engagement for Peacock, the digital viewership is good news.
It’s not as if networks no longer care about traditional TV numbers. So yes, those opening ceremony TV ratings are a disappointment. But they’re also a reflection of the changing media times — and NBC is hoping those digital viewership numbers will remain strong through the two-week event.
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WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy has picked five Republicans to sit on the new select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, signaling that Republicans will participate in the investigation that they have staunchly opposed.
McCarthy has selected Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, who recently visited former President Donald Trump on trips to the U.S.-Mexico border and Trump’s New Jersey golf club, to be the top Republican on the panel, according to a Republican familiar with the decision and an aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi must approve the names before they are final, per committee rules.
McCarthy has also tapped Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, North Dakota Rep. Kelly Armstrong and Texas Rep. Troy Nehls to serve on the panel, according to the two people, who shared the names on condition of anonymity ahead of an official announcement.
The five Republicans selected by McCarthy — all men — have strongly supported Trump, whose supporters laid siege to the Capitol building on Jan. 6 and interrupted the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory. Banks, Jordan and Nehls all voted to overturn Biden’s win that day, even after the rioting. Davis and Armstrong voted to certify Biden’s win.
McCarthy’s picks come after all but two Republicans opposed the creation of the 13-person select committee in a House vote last month, with most in the GOP arguing that the majority-Democratic panel would conduct a partisan probe. House Democrats originally attempted to create an evenly split, independent commission to investigate the insurrection, but that effort fell short when it was blocked by Senate Republicans.
House Republicans have largely remained loyal to Trump despite the violent insurrection of his supporters that sent many of them running for their lives. Banks made clear in a statement Monday evening that he would take a combative approach to his leadership on the panel, sharply criticizing the Democrats who had set it up.
“Make no mistake, Nancy Pelosi created this committee solely to malign conservatives and to justify the Left’s authoritarian agenda,” Banks said.
Jordan, one of Trump’s staunchest defenders through his two impeachments and the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said after the House vote to form the committee that he believed the panel is “impeachment three” against the former president. Trump was impeached by the House and acquitted by the Senate both times.
It is unclear if Pelosi will approve the members. The aide to Pelosi said her office had received the names from McCarthy’s office.
The Democratic chair of the select committee, Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, said Monday evening that he hadn’t seen the names but referred the matter to Pelosi. “It’s up to her,” he said.
Pelosi named eight members of the committee earlier this month — seven Democrats and Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who has strongly criticized Trump and has been the most outspoken member of her caucus against the insurrection. Cheney was demoted from GOP leadership in May over her comments.
As McCarthy has stayed quiet on Republican participation on the panel, Thompson has said that the committee will have a quorum to conduct business whether GOP members are present or not.
The new members will be put to the test at the panel’s first hearing next week, with at least four rank-and-file police officers who battled rioters that day testifying about their experiences. Dozens of police officers were injured as the crowd pushed past them and broke into the Capitol building.
Seven people died during and after the rioting, including a woman who was shot by police as she tried to break into the House chamber and three other Trump supporters who suffered medical emergencies. Two police officers died by suicide in the days that followed, and a third officer, Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, collapsed and later died after engaging with the protesters. A medical examiner determined he died of natural causes.
Associated Press writer Alan Fram in Washington contributed to this report.
(CNN) — Ford said Friday that it has recalled nearly 775,000 of its popular Explorer sports utility vehicles around the world following reports of six injuries related to steering issues in North America.
The auto company said the recalls were for the 2013-2017 models of the Explorer. Ford said in a press release that “affected vehicles may experience a clunk noise, unusual handling, or a misaligned rear wheel.”
Ford noted that these particular Explorer models may have problems with a fractured rear suspension toe link that “significantly diminishes steering control, increasing the risk of a crash.”
The company said that of the 774,696 recalled vehicles, 676,152 were in North America and 59,935 were in China. The remaining recalls took place in Europe, South America and other international markets.
Notifications to owners will begin the week of Aug. 23 and dealers will inspect and replace parts as necessary.
Ford indicated that wintry weather could be a particular concern for the impacted Explorers, saying in the release that the affected vehicles in the U.S. are located in “high-corrosion states” or regions where there is a combination of cold weather, high humidity and significant road salt use.
Ford said the recalled Explorers were built between 2012 and 2017 at plants in Chicago and Russia.
The company also announced two smaller recalls Friday of other models.
Ford recalled 34,939 of its 2020-2021 F-350 Super Duty trucks with a 6.7-liter engine and single rear wheel axle due to a weld issue. It also recalled 40,995 of its 2020-2021 Lincoln Aviator vehicles with 3.0-liter gas engines because they may have improperly secured battery cable wire harnesses which could result in a short circuit and potential fire.
Ford added that no injuries have been reported as a result of either issue.
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Medicare on Monday launched a formal process to decide whether to cover Aduhelm, the new Alzheimer’s drug whose $56,000-a-year price tag and unproven benefits have prompted widespread criticism and a congressional investigation.
A final decision isn’t likely until next spring, said the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, although an initial ruling could come in six months. Currently Medicare is making case-by-case determinations on whether to cover the medication, which is administered intravenously in a doctor’s office.
Medicare’s announcement came on the same day that Democratic leaders of two House committees asked drugmaker Biogen to turn over reams of documents on how it developed and priced the drug, and on its dealings with government officials at the Food and Drug Administration.
Although pricey drugs are now fairly commonplace, the recent approval of Aduhelm prompted an unusually intense backlash. The FDA went against the recommendation of its outside advisers in granting the approval, and the beleaguered agency has since curtailed the recommended use of the drug and requested an investigation by an independent watchdog into its dealings with Biogen. Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress are moving legislation authorizing Medicare to negotiate drug prices.
CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure signaled that neither politics nor cost will be part of Medicare’s evaluation.
“We want to consider Medicare coverage of new treatments very carefully in light of the evidence available,” Brooks-LaSure said in a statement that acknowledged the toll of Alzheimer’s disease on patients and their families. “Our process will include opportunities to hear from many stakeholders, including patient advocacy groups, medical experts, states, issuers, industry professionals, and family members and caregivers of those living with this disease.”
A 30-day public comment period began Monday, followed by two hearings to solicit a range of views. The agency’s decision will hinge on whether the evidence for Aduhelm meets a legal requirement that covered services, medical devices and medications be “reasonable and necessary for the diagnosis or treatment of illness or injury.”
Lawmakers, meanwhile, intensified their scrutiny of the drug’s approval.
Two committees in the House asked Biogen to hand over documentation on a number of issues surrounding the development of Aduhelm, including unusual contacts between company executives and FDA regulators.
Biogen and the FDA reanalyzed Aduhelm’s data together after the company’s studies suggested the drug was ineffective at slowing mental decline. The collaboration ultimately led to the FDA granting conditional approval for the drug, against the advice of its outside experts.
In particular, the lawmakers ask Biogen to turn over details about a company initiative dubbed “Project Onyx, to persuade FDA to approve Aduhelm.”
Last week, the FDA asked the government’s independent watchdog to investigate unusual interactions between some FDA staffers and Biogen. That included reports of at least one “off the books” discussion between a Biogen executive and the FDA’s top Alzheimer’s drug reviewer.
Meetings between drug industry representatives and the FDA are normally carefully scheduled and documented. The FDA’s acting commissioner, Dr. Janet Woodock, asked the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services to probe whether the agency’s dealings with Biogen violated any government rules.
Another large part of the lawmakers’ request involves documents detailing how Biogen arrived at the drug’s price, pegged at roughly $56,000 for the typical patient. The drug requires monthly IVs and the dosage is based on a patient’s weight.
The committee chairs noted that a nonprofit think tank focused on drug pricing pegged the drug’s actual value at between $3,000 and $8,400 per year, based on its unproven benefits.
“While the company has claimed this price is ‘fair’ and ‘substantiated by the value it is expected to bring,’ an independent analysis determined that a fair price for Aduhelm would be a small fraction of Biogen’s price,” said committee chairs Rep. Carolyn Maloney and Rep. Frank Pallone.
Maloney heads the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Pallone heads the Committee on Energy and Commerce.
The letter instructs Biogen to turn over the information by July 26.
(CNN) — Skywatchers are in for an (inter)stellar treat this week.
Look up and you can gaze upon a dazzling view of Venus, Mars and the moon Monday and Tuesday nights, according to EarthSky.
Venus and Mars have been moving toward one another all weekend, culminating in their closest meeting during the early hours of Tuesday, July 13, around 3 a.m. ET. As seen from Earth, the planets will appear only half a degree — or only a finger’s width — apart, according to NASA. This meeting of planets in the sky is referred to as a planetary conjunction.
This is just an illusion, of course, because the two planets are extremely far apart in reality.
“Even during this conjunction, they will still be many millions of miles apart,” said Giada Arney in a video on NASA’s website. “But from our point of view here on Earth, they will appear to be close together.” Arney is a research space scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and a deputy principal investigator of the upcoming DAVINCI+ mission to Venus. DAVINCI+ stands for Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging Plus.
Since this timing coincides with the young moon’s return to the night sky, the conjunction of Venus and Mars will appear alongside a slim crescent moon that is only 10% illuminated.
Most observers will be able to see the three celestial bodies both Monday and Tuesday evenings, according to NASA. Viewers can look west about 45 minutes after sunset to spot the event these nights, but it can be viewed through July 14 if there are clear skies.
Venus, the closest to Earth and the brightest planet in the night sky, will appear very slightly above the red planet. Mars, planet of war, mythologically speaking, will be much smaller and dimmer in comparison to the glowing Venus, planet of love. First look for gleaming Venus, then shift your eyes slightly below for the smaller speck that is Mars.
Venus and Mars are both in the night sky in July, slowly approaching and eventually passing one another. Venus started the month below Mars and is moving up and away from the setting sun as the red planet drops and approaches the setting sun.
The red planet is most visible at the start of July and becomes more difficult to spot as the month comes and goes, according to EarthSky. You likely won’t see it at all come August. Venus, however, will remain in the evening sky for the rest of the year, reaching its greatest brightness on December 4 along with the new moon.
The conjunction is just one of the spectacular events you can catch in the night sky this year. Here is what else you can look forward to in 2021.
Typical of a normal year, 2021 has 12 full moons. (There were 13 full moons last year, two of which were in October.)
Here are all of the full moons remaining this year and their names, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac:
July 23 — buck moon
August 22 — sturgeon moon
September 20 — harvest moon
October 20 — hunter’s moon
November 19 — beaver moon
December 18 — cold moon
Be sure to check for the other names of these moons as well, attributed to their respective Native American tribes.
The Delta Aquariids meteor shower is best seen from the southern tropics and will peak between July 28 and 29, when the moon is 74% full.
Interestingly, another meteor shower peaks on the same night — the Alpha Capricornids. Although this is a much weaker shower, it has been known to produce some bright fireballs during its peak. It will be visible for everyone, regardless of which side of the equator you are on.
The Perseid meteor shower, the most popular of the year, will peak between August 11 and 12 in the Northern Hemisphere, when the moon is only 13% full.
Here is the meteor shower schedule for the rest of the year, according to EarthSky’s meteor shower outlook.
• October 8: Draconids
• October 21: Orionids
• November 4 to 5: South Taurids
• November 11 to 12: North Taurids
• November 17: Leonids
• December 13 to 14: Geminids
• December 22: Ursids
Solar and lunar eclipses
This year, there will be one more eclipse of the sun and another eclipse of the moon, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
November 19 will see a partial eclipse of the moon, and skywatchers in North America and Hawaii can view it between 1 a.m. ET and 7:06 a.m. ET.
And the year will end with a total eclipse of the sun on December 4. It won’t be visible in North America, but those in the Falkland Islands, the southern tip of Africa, Antarctica and southeastern Australia will be able to spot it.
Skywatchers will have multiple opportunities to spot the planets in our sky during certain mornings and evenings throughout 2021, according to the Farmer’s Almanac planetary guide.
It’s possible to see most of these with the naked eye, with the exception of distant Neptune, but binoculars or a telescope will provide the best view.
Mercury will look like a bright star in the morning sky from June 27 to July 16 and October 18 to November 1. It will shine in the night sky from August 31 to September 21, and November 29 to December 31.
Venus, our closest neighbor in the solar system, will appear in the western sky at dusk in the evenings through December 31. It’s the second-brightest object in our sky, after the moon.
Mars makes its reddish appearance in the morning sky between November 24 and December 31, and it will be visible in the evening sky through August 22.
Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, is the third-brightest object in our sky. It will be on display in the morning sky through August 19. Look for it in the evenings August 20 to December 31 — but it will be at its brightest from August 8 to September 2.
Saturn’s rings are only visible through a telescope, but the planet itself can still be seen with the naked eye in the mornings through August 1 and in the evenings from August 2 to December 31. It will be at its brightest during the first four days of August.
Binoculars or a telescope will help you spot the greenish glow of Uranus in the mornings through November 3 and in the evenings from November 4 to December 31. It will be at its brightest between August 28 and December 31.
And our most distant neighbor in the solar system, Neptune, will be visible through a telescope in the mornings through September 13 and during the evenings September 14 to December 31. It will be at its brightest between July 19 and November 8.
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DANVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — Suspects in a Sunday night home fire have been identified as juveniles, the Danville Fire Department said Monday night.
The Danville Metropolitan Police Department’s investigations division conducted a joint investigation with the Danville Fire Department into a home fire that happened late Sunday night in the 100 block of East Broadway Street.
In a Facebook post on Monday night, Danville police posted photos of people who were caught on cameras inside the home prior to the fire.
On Sunday evening, police and fire crews informed residents through Facebook posts to avoid the area for an extended period of time. The blaze was so large that Danville Fire Department received assistance from surrounding agencies to stop the fire.
According to police, no one was injured or inside the home when the fire began. Authorities have provided no information on how the fire started.
On Monday night, the fire department said because the suspects are juveniles, they will not be identified publicly.
The Danville Metropolitan Police Department asked anyone with information about the fire or the suspects in the photos to contact the 24-hour anonymous crime-tip line at 317-745-3001, or by contacting Crime Stoppers of Central Indiana at 317-262-8477.
(CNN) — As the planet warms, a study found that male dragonflies are losing a crucial feature they typically use to attract female mates: the ornate black patterns on their wings.
The new research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that male dragonflies are adapting to a warming climate by shedding more of their darker wing patterns.
Researchers worry that female species may no longer recognize their male counterparts without their intricate wing patterns and, thus, couldn’t reproduce as temperatures get hotter.
“Our research shows that males and females of these dragonfly species are going to shift in pretty different ways as the climate changes,” Michael Moore, lead author of the study and an evolutionary biologist at Washington University in St. Louis, told CNN. “These changes are going to happen likely on a much faster timescale than the evolutionary changes in these species have ever occurred before.”
Moore and his colleagues analyzed a database of more than 300 dragonfly species across the United States, Canada and northern Mexico, and cross-referenced the wing colors of roughly 2,700 individual dragonflies from different species across different locations and climate.
According to a study Moore co-authored in 2019, male dragonflies with darker wing patterns thrive under colder conditions, whereas warmer conditions dramatically reduce their performance. The latest study highlights that male dragonflies adapted to warmer temperatures by evolving less melanin on their wing patterns.
“Evolutionary changes and wing coloration are a really consistent way that dragonflies adapt to their climates,” he said. “This got us wondering what the role of evolutionary changes in wing coloration might be as dragonflies respond to the rise in global temperatures.”
A darker wing coloration is a crucial mating trait for male dragonflies, enticing female mates. But just as dark roads absorb the sun’s heat, dark wing pigments increase the dragonflies’ body temperatures by up to 2 degrees Celsius (35 degrees Fahrenheit), damaging their wing tissue, overheating them and reducing their defense abilities — all of which pose deadly ramifications for the insects.
Moore likens it to wearing black clothing on a sunny, hot day: it’s going to make you feel hotter.
The findings, however, only apply to male dragonflies. Female dragonflies respond less to climate changes, and when they do, it’s usually the opposite way as male dragonflies. The reason, Moore says, remains unknown.
“We don’t yet know what’s driving these evolutionary changes in female wing coloration,” he said. “But one of the very important things that this indicates is that we shouldn’t assume that males and females are going to respond to climatic conditions in exactly the same way.”
The disparate evolution between the two, researchers say, pose challenges when it comes to mating or breeding.
In a 14-year period, from 2005 to 2019, Moore and his colleagues analyzed which dragonflies make it to the breeding stages and discovered that natural selection has prevented ornamented male dragonflies from breeding in warmer years, compared to cooler years.
The study’s climate projections also show that changes in dragonfly wing coloration will be a crucial aspect in seeing how the species would respond to warming temperatures over the next 50 years, predicting more decreases by 2070.
It’s not just dragonflies, according Scott Black, executive director of the Xerces Society, a nonprofit conservation group that protects insect habitats.
“This is evolution and adaptation in real time, but will they be able to adapt quickly enough?” Black, who is not involved with the study, told CNN. “The climate crisis is happening at a speed that is really unprecedented in human history. It’s all of these animals potentially adapting to be able to move to a climate or habitats that are able to support them.”
Black also said that adaptation alone will not help these species if they do not have enough water, in which their nymphs depend on to grow to adulthood. With large parts of the Western US facing record-breaking heat waves and drought while much of the Northeast region are under heat advisories, it’s clear that historic temperatures and climate impacts are taking a toll on various species and ecosystems including dragonflies.
“We must work on nature-based climate solutions, including wetland protection and restoration, to maintain this important biodiversity,” Black said. “Dragonflies are very important because they eat insects like mosquitoes so this is not just about dragonflies but disrupting the entire ecosystem.”
Meanwhile, Moore adds that climate and land management policies shouldn’t just focus on how species will survive, but also how they can continue to mate and reproduce to create a lasting population as climate change shifts habitats and ecosystems.
“What our research shows strongly is that as we make these recommendations to folks who work on policy and land management,” he said, “we need to make sure that they understand that these organisms also need reproduce and not just survive.”