Hopping Towards Extinction

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: January 16, 2020

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Submitted: January 16, 2020

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Conservation is a popularity contest. This is the unfortunate truth. As we go further into the twenty first century it is heartening to see an increase in both public and political awareness in the importance of protecting our natural world and the species that lives within it and yes there are many species which are provided a great deal of protection. However, there are over 6 million species on this planet, all with different needs, in different countries with different ideals and legislation. Thus, there are always species that are going to fall through the cracks. Here I’m going to talk about three species of grasshopper that are at risk of going extinct. Why you may ask? Are grasshoppers the first thing that come to mind when thinking of conservation? No then let’s change that then shall we.

Let’s start by travelling to Tanzania. More specifically lowland evergreen forests of the Usambara Mountains. Found within the leaflitter of these forests is the Usambara Drumming Grasshopper. Currently declining due to deforestation for farm land. Some of the population is found within the Amani Nature Reserve. That’s it. That’s all I could reliable found about this species outside of its taxonomy. Currently the species is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List although I personally wouldn’t be surprised if this fact changes in the coming years.

With that brief opening we now move to the Canary Islands and more specifically La Palma home to the aptly named Palma Stick Grasshopper is perhaps one of the rarest insects in the world. This is likely partly due to its limited diet as it feeds almost exclusively on the Euphorbia lamarckii shrub which was once the dominate plant

This limited habitat is under threat from illegal logging, over grazing and wildfires. Over grazing poses a significant threat due to the species low dispersal ability meaning areas can be easily fragmented, curtailing the species already limited travel distance. The area is also under threat from natural disasters such as tsunamis and landslides which potential could wipe the species out in one motion.

Because of all of this the species is classified as Critically Endangered. Now while the species is protected under Spanish Law which has helped protect the area from being converted into a golf course what is actually understood about the species is little. The species isn’t monitored to the extent that we don’t even understand why the species feed exclusively on the one shrub as it’s food source even though other species of grasshopper on nearby islands have more diverse diets.

For our final example we turn to the Crau Steppe of southern France the Crau Plain Grasshopper was once found over an area of only around 40km2 and now only occupies a fragmented and scattered range of between 12-16 km2. They likely have this limited range due to the fact that unlike most grasshoppers are flightless and have fluctuations each year of the number of mature individuals.

Its decline occurred throughout the 20th century and still continues to this day with a 70% decline having occurred within the last ten years alone. Initially the decline was habitat destruction mainly roads which are responsible for its fragmented habitat. Two subpopulations are under particular threat, one being found on a military base another on a car training course. However even within protect areas the species continues to decline. Theories as to why this is including an increase in overgrazing, droughts, predation (from the increased number of cattle egrets) or possibly even sheep medication as they often feed on sheep faeces.

Currently there are less than 5,000 mature individuals. This plus its fragmented range has led to its Critically Endangered Status. However, unlike the previously mentioned two there is hope. A captive breeding program is ongoing Thoiry Zoo and in some areas further road construction has been banned. However, if things are to improve the species will require stronger legal protection, restoration of lost habitat and greater awareness about it.

The future for these species is a uncertain and fraught one. For the La Palma and the Crau both are listed as Critically Endangered and with such small and fractured ranges it is difficult to foresee if they will get the protection necessary to survive. The Usambara grasshopper is currently Vulnerable however as previously mentioned greater understanding of its population dynamics is needed to help prevent it from joining its compatriots at the tipping point


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