Dragonflies are 'canaries in the coal mine' for wetland loss. Scientists want your help to track them
Citizens can report dragonfly sightings using an app called iNaturalist
As wetlands in Canada shrink, dragonfly populations can offer clues about their health.
"Dragonflies are excellent canaries in the coal mine for biodiversity conservation and the health of wetland ecosystems," said James Paterson, a research scientist with Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC).
Dragonflies lay eggs in water — either rivers or wetlands. Depending on the species, the larva can stay in water from a few months, for smaller species, to five years for larger species.
But drainage, primarily for agriculture and development, is reducing the number of places they can call home.
According to Paterson, Canada loses about 30 hectares of wetland each day.
"We're getting rid of water so that we can grow more food or build more housing developments," said Paterson.
"I think there are ways that we can grow our society, that live in harmony with nature and so that we can keep wetlands on the landscape."
Of the more than 200 dragonfly species in Canada, only six are considered endangered. The International Union for Conservation of Nature said last year that 16 per cent of the more than 6,000 species of dragonfly and their closely related damselfly are at risk of extinction due to loss of freshwater habitats.
To better understand habitat losses in Canada — and prevent the loss of dragonfly species in the future — DUC is calling on citizen scientists to report dragonfly sightings in their neck of the woods.
Using an app called iNaturalist, people out in the wild or on a hike can submit photos of dragonfly sightings as part of Project Dragonfly. No expertise on the insects is needed, said Paterson.
"If you don't know what it is, a community of experts will help identify it for you."
Hundreds of species rely on wetlands
Wetlands aren't only crucial to the health of dragonflies; up to 40 per cent of all species rely on species wetlands to live and breed, DUC reported.
"We know that wetlands punch above their weight in terms of the number and types of species they support," said Paterson.
That includes hundreds of species of plants, birds, invertebrates and amphibians, including frogs.
Canada currently does have a comprehensive monitoring program to measure the loss of wetlands, according to the conservation organization.
Through Project Dragonfly, Paterson hopes to get people out into Canada's wetlands with the goal of developing a stronger appreciation of the habitats and their biodiversity.
"We want to keep these systems around to support all of that biodiversity," Paterson said.
Written by Jason Vermes. Produced by Laurie Allan.