The Bahamas: Home to four new plume moth species


A report from Caribbean News Now.

Scientists have classified four previously unidentified species of plume moths in The Bahamas. Plume moths are a class of tiny moths with uniquely modified wings.

Plume moths are named for the fringelike scales that decorate their wings. When stretched, the appearance of the mosquito-sized moths mirrors a tiny star.

In The Bahamas, there are now 23 discovered plume moths. Many of them – including the four reported recently in the journal Insecta Mundi – would possibly still be fluttering about in anonymity if it were not for Deborah Matthews.

Since 1987, Matthews, a biological scientist at the Florida Museum of Natural History, has been conducting plume moth excursions and field studies in The Bahamas.

The four recently identified species bring the total number of plume moth species living in The Bahamas to 23. Eighteen of the 23 also live in Florida and 10 are also located in Cuba. But several are located on just one or two islands.

“They’re part of the food web and part of the countless biodiversity treasures discovered in The Bahamas,” Matthews said. “It’s important to know what you have in an area before it’s lost.”

The biological scientist’s work is part of a widespread effort, headed by Florida Museum curator Jacqueline Miller, to record the complete diversity of moths and butterflies observed in The Bahamas. When the survey commenced in 2010, scientists knew of 300 Bahamian butterfly and moth species. At present, the archipelago is known to host at least 1,000 species.

Meanwhile, a comprehensive report estimating the state of the natural world discovered that people are having an “unprecedented” and destructive effect on global biodiversity, with about 1 million plant and animal species now endangered with extinction.

A review of the paper’s conclusions was published Monday by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which was founded in 2012 by the United Nations Environment Programme and includes delegates from 132 nations.

Robert Watson, the panel’s chairperson and a professor of environmental sciences at the University of East Anglia in the UK, said data gathered over the last 50 years from approximately 15,000 government and scientific studies depicts “an ominous picture.”

The paper, which did not record specific species, observed that 25 percent of mammals, over 40 percent of amphibian species, approximately 33 percent of sharks and 25 percent of plant groups are endangered with extinction. Based on these proportions, the scientists concluded that about 1 million animal and plant species could die out, many “within decades.”

Extinctions have transpired throughout Earth’s past, but the paper determined that human actions endanger more species presently than ever before, with the global rate of species extinction over the last 50 years already at least tens to hundreds of times higher than it has averaged over the previous 10 million years.

This accelerating velocity should be cause for panic, according to professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut, David Wagner, who wasn’t associated with the paper.

This could have severe results for the balance of ecosystems globally, which in turn could immediately affect human health, experts state. The interactions between plants, humans, animals and the atmosphere make up a complicated web. Disturbances to any component of this biological architecture can have substantial, cascading effects.

For example, humans need food to survive. Over three-quarters of the world’s food crops depend, at least in part, on the activities of butterflies, wasps, bees and other pollinators, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

The new UN report ascertained that ten percent of insect species are under threat.

The main perils to biodiversity distinguished in the report include developments in land use — such as increasing urban areas and dedicating more land to agriculture or livestock — as well as poaching, overfishing, climate change and pollution.

In numerous instances, these changes are striving in tandem to eradicate insect and animal habitats or force species to relocate to other regions, where they may not be suited to survive.

The intergovernmental science-policy platform on biodiversity and ecosystem services convened in Paris last week to finalise aspects of the assessment — the first to be published by the organisation since 2005.

The report, which is intended to guide policymakers on sustainability and conservation conclusions, asserts that “urgent and concerted efforts fostering transformative change” are necessary to halt or reverse the alarming declines in biodiversity.

Notwithstanding the dreadful prognosis, John Wiens, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona, stated most scientists accept that the Earth has not crossed the point of no return.

“It’s not too late — there’s a 10- or 20-year window in which we can still do something,” Wiens said. “In the end, all it takes is will. If we decide we want to solve it, we can solve it.”

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