Climate Change Threatens Insects — And Us: Researchers warn we risk losing a sustainable future if we don’t take action to conserve insects and address #ClimateChange. They also offer solutions — The Revelator

The autumn darter is endangered in Japan. Photo: coniferconifer, (CC BY 2.0

Click the link to read the article on The Revelator website (Tara Lohan):

Maybe you’ve noticed summer night skies dimmed by the loss of fireflies, or a lack of bug splatter on your windshield. Or perhaps you’ve been urged to plant milkweed to help monarch butterflies recover. Those are just small glimpses at the insect declines happening globally.

In the United States research has documented American bumblebees down 90% since 2000. Moth populations have fallen 33% since 1968; the western population of migratory monarch butterflies has plummeted by 90% in the past 50 years. In Germany researchers measured a 76% reduction in the biomass of flying insects, and research in East Asia showed the summertime number of predator insects had fallen by 20%.

A look at the bigger picture isn’t much better: A 2019 study concluded that we could lose 40% of the world’s insect species to extinction in the next few decades.

This mounting body of scientific evidence prompted a 2018 New York Times story, “The Insect Apocalypse Is Here,” which caused a storm of media attention.

New research since then only adds to the concern. It also hones in on the additional pressure of climate change, which amplifies other threats already facing many insect species.

“We have enough data to know we are in a critical moment because many of the insects we know are declining, and Earth is experiencing transformations that will make it even more inhospitable to insects as we know them,” says Mariana Abarca, an assistant professor of biological sciences at Smith College. She’s the coauthor of a paper published in November in Ecological Monographs called, “Scientists’ Warning on Climate Change and Insects,” which summarizes the effects of gradual global surface temperature increases on insects, as well as the effects of increased extreme events.

“We warn that, if no action is taken to better understand and reduce the action of climate change on insects, we will drastically reduce our ability to build a sustainable future based on healthy, functional ecosystems,” the authors of the study concluded.

That’s bad news not just for insects but for all wildlife — and for us.

Life as we know it relies on insects doing what they do: pollinating plants, including three-quarters of the crops we eat and 80% of wild plants; controlling pests; breaking down organic matter and recycling the nutrients; and being eaten. Insects make up the base of the aquatic and terrestrial food webs. Salmon, birds, people — and countless other animals — would all go hungry without them.

How Bad Is It?

Are concerns of an “apocalypse” justified? The answer may be somewhere between “not sure” and “not yet.”

To be certain, we’d need more information.

“In order to know what proportion of insect populations are declining and how geographically widespread these declines are, we would need long-term monitoring data from multiple locations in the globe,” says Abarca. “Only a subset of insects in a restricted geographic range have been properly monitored, so of those, we know many are experiencing serious declines and that is concerning.”

But signs are strong that we’re headed into dangerous territory.

A butterfly on a butterfly bush. Photo: Michele Dorsey Walfred (CC BY 2.0)

“If we don’t change what we’re doing, the areas and groups that are declining will spread,” says Carol Boggs, a professor of biological sciences at the University of South Carolina, and another coauthor of the study.

The Threats

Climate change will hurry that process along.

Some of the biggest threats to insects are habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution, invasive species and land-use changes like deforestation, urbanization and industrial agriculture. Climate change adds another compounding layer.

Warming temperatures will force some species to migrate, but that’s a prospect that gets harder as we convert natural areas — and potential climate refugia — into roads, housing developments and chemical-intensive farms.

Most insects are ectothermic, making them unable to control their own body heat and therefore vulnerable to changing temperatures or moisture levels.

When temperatures get too high insects can suffer a range of injuries, including development failures and negative effects on longevity, dispersal and fecundity. “All of which can reduce their resilience in the face of climate change and in the worst-case scenarios lead to population crashes,” the researchers wrote.

Many insects also rely on temperature signals to initiate stages of life, including diapause, a necessary period when development is suspended in winter. More summer heatwaves or warmer winter spells could trigger mistimed biological cues, resulting in “trophic mismatch” where a lack of synchronous resource availability affects organisms’ survival.

“I’ve collaborated with Dr. David Inouye to show that early snowmelt in montane regions can lead to flowering plants starting to grow earlier; those plants’ flower buds can then get aborted due to late spring freezes,” says Boggs. “A lack of flowers leads to reduced egg laying by the Mormon fritillary butterfly, which leads to decreases in population. This phenomenon likely applies to other butterflies as well.”

Extreme Weather

It’s not just long-term warming trends. More climatic extremes can be dangerous for insects, too.

Climatic extremes pose “a short-term threat to insects, with long-term consequences for ecosystems,” the researchers write.

Heat waves can impair reproduction and fertility. Extreme rainfall and floods can dislodge insects from plants, change soil properties, and force those who live underground to come to the surface, increasing the risk of predation.

Drought also threatens insects and the plants they rely on. For example, the study found “a recent mega-drought in western North America had negative and long-lasting effects on montane butterfly communities that were comparable in magnitude to the combined effects of decades of habitat loss and degradation at lower elevations.”

Black-backed woodpeckers eat beetles on fire-burned trees. Photo: budgora, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

One exception may be wildfires, the aftereffects of which are a boon for wood-boring beetles (and the birds who eat them). Emergent vegetation after a fire can boost the understory and bugs attracted to that new growth — though even for these species, researchers warn, big changes to fire regimes can still be problematic.

But smoke from wildfires can also negatively affect some insects, a recent study found, including blocking antennal receptors in bees and decreasing flying abilities of painted lady butterflies.

Winners and Losers

That’s an important reminder that climate change won’t affect all species the same way — insects included.

Tropical insect species have been found to be at a greater risk than those in temperate areas, who are more adapted to a greater range in temperature. But insects in the coldest places, like areas in front of receding glaciers, also face habitat change.

Some insects could benefit — in some cases the ones we least want to see proliferate. Warming winter temperatures are leading to more forest and crop pests that were previously held in check by cold weather. In Hawai‘i native birds like the ‘akikiki, a kind of honeycreeper, are endangered by the avian malaria spread by invasive mosquitoes that are now increasing their range to higher elevations with warming temperatures.

“Winners tended to be generalist/invasive species, good dispersers, generally colonizing from downstream or downslope, such as grasshoppers,” they write. “Conversely, the losers are often specialist species, adapted to cold habitats, among which some were restricted to isolated glacier-influenced ecosystems.”

Taking Action

Despite a lot of concerning findings, there’s also some good news if we act quickly. “Most insects have short generations and lay hundreds of eggs, so they have a better chance of bouncing back than other imperiled animals, such as rhinos or tigers,” says Abarca. “I’m optimistic about the success of insect conservation programs — we just have to start them.”

Some of that can be small, like “microclimatic refugia.” This includes flower strips, hedgerows, woodlots, and diverse agricultural areas and cover cropping.

Wheat fields bordered with flowers to attract pollinating insects. Photo: Paul van de Velde (CC BY 2.0)

Insect needs also vary at different times of the year.

“Overwintering insects need the protection that leaf litter and organic debris provide,” she says. “It’s important to not only provide native flowers for pollen and nectar during the growing season, but also to let caterpillars and other larvae to eat the foliage of trees and to leave the leaves where they fall in autumn, so they host pupae until the following spring.”

People can help this process in their own yards by using a diverse mix of native plants, forgoing pesticides, sowing native wildflowers, limiting mowing and leaving plant debris on the ground.

“I would like to change the image of a neat, tidy yard as something desirable and replace it with the image of a rich, messy, biodiverse yard,” says Abarca.

We also need actions on a much larger scale.

“It’s vitally important that factors such as habitat loss and fragmentation, invasive species, intensive agricultural practices, various forms of pollution, and other stresses are fully integrated into conservation management approaches,” the researchers write. “Only in this way will declines in insects be stabilized or reversed.”

Curbing climate change will be needed to help insects, too. The study highlights a range of actions along those lines, including reducing and eliminating the use of fossil fuels, curbing short-lived pollutants like methane, restoring and permanently protecting ecosystems to safeguard biodiversity and store carbon, embracing a circular economy and growth within ecological limits, and stabilizing human population levels.

“Scientific progress alone is unlikely to result in desirable outcomes and needs to be paired with enabling policies, broad awareness-raising, and stakeholder education,” it reads. “The evidence is clear and the onus is on governing bodies to act now. With species and habitats being lost every day, a refusal or delay to act is not a wise choice.”

There’s also one more way we can all help: Tell stories about insects. “Insects are so different from mammals that we don’t typically connect with them,” says Abarca. “But once people learn more about their ways of life and their ecological importance, they change their minds.”

Biden Administration Considers Unprecedented Solution to #ColoradoRiver Crisis — EOS #COriver #aridification

The Colorado River flows from its headwaters region, near Parshall, Colo. Credit: Mitch Tobin, The Water Desk, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Click the link to read the article on the EOS website (Jane Palmer). Here’s an excerpt:

As Colorado River Basin states prove unable to reach a consensus in reducing their water consumption, the U.S. Department of the Interior is investigating an option that defies the Law of the River...

Consequently, as the states have been unable to reach a consensus, on 11 April the Bureau of Reclamation stepped in with a draft analysis weighing options for water use reduction. One option, which is aligned with the current Law of the River, considers making reductions based on the seniority of water rights. This strategy means that some users in Arizona would face drastic reductions, and the water allocations to the cities of Tucson and Phoenix could be slashed. California, however, would not have to make cuts.

“This business-as-usual approach means the lowest-priority users take the biggest cut, and that is surely not going to work,” said Jack Schmidt, director of the Center for Colorado River Studies at Utah State University.

An alternative, unprecedented approach outlined in the analysis would be to divvy the cuts up evenly among the lower basin states, reducing the water allocated to California, Arizona, and Nevada. Everybody taking the same proportional cuts might be okay in the near term, but sustainability in the long term requires more targeted and thoughtful analysis, Schmidt said. “But if it’s an incremental step towards people saying that we have to move beyond the limits of the Law of the River, then it’s a first step,” Schmidt said. “And we have to start somewhere.”

Schmidt pointed out that the Law of the River has always progressively changed in increments, and the current situation, exacerbated by a warming climate, would call for further changes. “That said, it is important for the federal government to exert its leadership because the states have recently not been able to reach an agreement,” Schmidt said…

“It is time for a fundamental restructuring of how we think about water allocation in the Colorado River system,” Schmidt said.

Water levels at Lake Powell have plummeted to lows not seen since the days when the reservoir was filling for the first time. Credit: Alexander Heilner, The Water Desk with aerial support from LightHawk, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Melting snows make rushing rivers — The #Montrose Daily Press #runoff #snowpack (April 15, 2023)

Click the link to read the article on The Montrose Daily Press website (John T. Unger). Here’s an excerpt:

The graphs this week from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that the Gunnison Basin is at 161% of its normal snow-water-equivalent (S.W.E.). Interestingly, the Upper Colorado Headwaters zone is at 132% of its normal S.W.E. These “normals” are based on just the previous thirty years, twenty of which have been drought years here in the western U.S. But there is some elation in seeing the moisture now residing in the soils within our valleys, though it is said to be too wet to plant onions just yet. Of course, the soils in the backyards of towns such as Crested Butte are still hidden from sight, beneath five feet of settled snow still on the level…

How much of this melting snowpack can we capture and store this year? As reported by Katharhynn Heidelberg in Tuesday’s Montrose Press, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation states that Blue Mesa Reservoir’s actual live storage capacity is projected to be at just 71% by the end of the water year in September. That beats last year, anyway.

Closed Basin issues rise at #RioGrande Water Conservation District board meeting — @AlamosaCitizen #SanLuisValley

Sunrise March 10, 2023 Alamosa Colorado with the Rio Grande in the foreground. Photo credit: Chris Lopez/Alamosa Citizen

Click the link to read the article on the Alamosa Citizen website (Chris Lopez):

THE federal government’s Closed Basin Project reared its head at Thursday’s special meeting of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District board.

In question was whether Closed Basin water could be included in annual replacement plans as a potential resource for subdistricts to help offset winter depletions to the Rio Grande and Conejos River basins.

The majority of the board answered in the affirmative, with some dissent, and approved resolutions to that effect and then separately approved the respective annual replacement plans of the six subdistricts. Those now get filed with the state Division of Water Resources for review and sign-off and are key plans to show the state how Valley irrigators are replacing the water they pump out in efforts to bring sustainability to the Upper Rio Grande aquifers.

The meeting drew a crowd of water users along the Rio Grande and Conejos River basins, who had heard the subdistrict annual replacement plans were in jeopardy of not being approved because the plans included potential use of Closed Basin water. Without a board-approved annual replacement plan in place, irrigators wouldn’t be able to begin groundwater pumping, hence the turnout and pleas to the board to vote for the plans.

No annual replacement plan, no groundwater pumping, no Valley ag economy was the message the Rio Grande Water Conservation District board members heard.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation-managed Closed Basin Project, positioned in the northern end of the Valley, pools surface water and groundwater and pumps the water into a canal to meet Rio Grande Compact and Treaty of Mexico requirements. 

In rulings from the Colorado Supreme Court, the water also can be prioritized for private use if there’s water left after meeting annual downstream obligations to New Mexico, Texas and Mexico, and delivering water to the Valley’s wetlands and wildlife refuges. 

But rarely is that the case.

With the persistent drought conditions, the Closed Basin Project has reduced its pumping to about 12,500 acre-feet of water a year, said Amber Pacheco, acting general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District. Of that, about 4,000 acre-feet is used to protect the wetlands areas and the rest of the water, or around 8,000 acre-feet, heads downstream.

The Closed Basin has an absolute water right of 42,000 acre-feet annually if conditions allow for it, and pumping is constantly monitored because under federal statute the Closed Basin Project cannot withdraw water to a level two feet below the area being pumped.

“They can’t pump it dry,” Pacheco said. “The Closed Basin Project can’t operate that way.”

Pacheco said the Rio Grande Water Conservation District cannot use Closed Basin water for anything other than wintertime depletions. “We pay all our irrigation-season depletions by other means. We don’t use the Closed Basin for that.”

And despite there being plenty of water users who would like to see the Closed Basin Project shut down and the water kept in the San Luis Valley, including some members of Rio Grande Water Conservation District board, a vote to shut it down isn’t within the boards power.

“This board can’t shut down the Closed Basin. It’s a federal project. They can ask and make comments, but they can’t vote to shut it down.”

But the Rio Grande Water Conservation District can approve an annual replacement plan for a subdistrict that includes the option of using Closed Basin water to offset winter depletions. The meeting at least made that clear.


Find more coverage of the RWR plan and other Valley water issues HERE

The headwaters of the Rio Grande River in Colorado. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

June 22 is the 2023 Watershed Summit. Mark your calendars for a fun filled day of water education and community. Registration will open May 1st — @OWOW_MSUDenver @DenverBotanic @msudenver

Big flows on #NewMexico’s #RioJemez — John Fleck (InkStain) #RioGrande #runoff

The Jemez River — downstream from Jemez Pueblo, in Sandoval County, central New Mexico. By Sharon Phelan Evans – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Click the link to read the article on the InkStain websire (John Fleck):

Ryan Boetel at the Albuquerque Journal has the latest in the morning paper on the big flows on the Rio Jemez, a Rio Grande tributary north of Albuquerque.

  • For non-Albuquerque readers, the Jemez flows through the Jemez Mountains northwest of Albuquerque. Its confluence with the Rio Grande is ~25 miles (~40km) river miles upstream from Albuquerque.
  • Measurements here are in cubic feet per second (cfs).
  • Flood stage measurements in feet are important for assessing flood impact, while cfs measurements are useful for water volume analysis, which is what I’m most interested in.
  • The highest flow since a specific date depends on the measurement used – flood stage in feet versus cfs – as the channel changes. So flood stage “highest since” will differ from cfs flow “highest since”
  • The red line on the chart represents daily flow in cfs. Yesterday’s the highest April 13 volume of water since the gage was installed in the 1930s.
  • Huge caveat: There are significant gaps in the dataset from spring 1941 to spring 1953. 1942? We’ll never know. So really the best way to characterize this is “a dataset that goes back to the 1950s”.
  • Yesterday’s average daily flow was 1,130 cfs, the highest daily flow since 1987, when the flow peaked at 1,440 cfs on April 19 and 20.
  • The all-time peak flow on record occurred on April 21, 1958, at 3,160 cfs. Yowza.