Firefly Decline May Be Due to Humans Acting as “Ecosystem Engineers”

loss of ecosystem responsible for dwindling firefly population

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Land development may be responsible for dwindling firefly populations, USA Today reported. Light pollution, pesticides, and weed killer may also be exacerbating the problem. Humans have often brought about changes to ecosystems, intentionally or not.

Macro close up of firefly on leaf
The loss of firefly populations is an indicator of changes to ecosystems due to increasing development and light pollution. Photo by Khlungcenter / Shutterstock

According to USA Today, fireflies have fewer marshes and wetlands to inhabit due to increasing development imposing on those areas. Researchers, wildlife enthusiasts, and others are not only concerned about the overall number of fireflies lighting up the night, but also their diversity. This isn’t the first time that society has affected an ecosystem, and it won’t be the last.

Affecting Ecology Positively

The human race has been concerned with its influences over ecology for centuries. For example, Yellowstone National Park was granted protection for its diverse wildlife and other natural wonders, and that’s no fluke. “The Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act are actually examples of some very successful legislation,” said Dr. Eric G. Strauss, Presidential Professor in Ecology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. “They came about as a result of a variety of rising environmental concerns, which took the public stage in 1970 with the first Earth Day, a national celebration that was spearheaded by Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin.”

According to Dr. Strauss, Senator Nelson sponsored a “national day of teaching” around the world that educated people about overpopulation and environmental concerns that led to the aforementioned acts, which still serve as regulatory guidelines today and have caused major reductions in lead in the air and water.

Dr. Strauss also mentioned the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation Liability Act, which taxed petroleum and raised billions for pollution cleanup, and the National Environmental Policy Act, which mandated detailed reports of potential damage to an ecosystem in light of development.

The Microcosm of Shrimp Farming

Unfortunately, human influence on local, national, and global ecosystems isn’t always good. Shrimp farming serves as a fitting microcosm and just one example of how we’ve made things worse.

“Shrimp farms in Asia produce 75 percent of the shrimp that is consumed annually; the other 25 percent mostly comes from Latin America, and of that, mostly from Brazil,” Dr. Strauss said. “This is now a global industry, and essentially, only two species of shrimp are grown—the Pacific white shrimp and the tiger prawn.”

By farming such a small spectrum of shrimp species, a monoculture is formed, and that monoculture is prone to disease. Dr. Strauss mentioned white spot syndrome and yellowhead disease as two illnesses that wipe out entire farms of shrimp, at once. “So the response of the people who run these farms is continued rapid expansion and movement of the farms, leaving behind a legacy of degraded landscape,” he said. “Because wetland systems are the preferred areas in which these shrimp are grown, as much as 10 percent of the world’s mangrove ecosystems have been lost to make way for shrimp farms. Like any concentrated farming, concentrated feed and waste have devastating local impacts on ecosystems.” In the long term, overly exuberant expansion and land development are causing the collapse of many of these ecosystems.

Fireflies may continue to vanish if rapid development akin to shrimp farming continues.

Dr. Eric G. Strauss contributed to this article. Dr. Strauss is Presidential Professor in Ecology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He received his undergraduate education at Emerson College and earned his Ph.D. from Tufts University.