The Dragonfly Project asks British Columbians to report sightings of dragonflies, to help conserve local species.
Canada’s dwindling dragonfly populations are the target of a recent rescue mission led by a growing army of citizen scientists.
Project Dragonfly, a new initiative from Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC), allows everyday volunteers to log their sightings of dragonflies on iNaturalist and add them to a database mapping where species are found. In the first two weeks, 1,500 qualifying sightings were recorded by 499 iNaturalist watchers.
With their unimposing presence, dragonflies have literally flown under the radar for years as a species often uncredited for their role in ecosystems. Today, 16% of the 6,016 species of dragonflies and damselflies are threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
In British Columbia, 23 of the 87 local species of dragonflies are rare or at risk, according to the Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management.
DUC research scientist James Paterson said people should care about dragonfly conservation because they are an indicator species for the well-being of the wetlands they inhabit.
“Dragonflies are an excellent ‘canary in the coal mine’ for broader biodiversity conservation,” Paterson said. “They spend part of their lives in water and wetlands, then part of their lives flying through the air.”
Between 1970 and 2015, 35% of the world’s wetlands disappeared, according to the Global Wetland Outlook report. Canada is home to a quarter of the world’s remaining wetlands and 5.6% of British Columbia is made up of wetlands.
According to CIC, these wetlands are home to 40% of the world’s species that depend on them and are disappearing three times faster than forests. Paterson said this is due to land clearing for agriculture and urban expansion.
“People historically thought of wetlands as waste areas, where you just wanted to drain the water so you could do something useful with it,” Paterson said. “But now we realize that these systems have so many benefits for human society.”
Bruno Oberle, director general of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, said in a press release that the importance of Canada’s wetlands can often be overlooked by ordinary citizens.
“[Wetlands] store carbon, give us clean water and food, protect us from flooding, and provide habitats for one in 10 known species worldwide,” Oberle said.
While parts of British Columbia, such as the South Okanagan, have experienced wetland habitat losses of up to 85%, DUC has managed to conserve or restore 451,747 acres of wetlands through various projects.
Dragonfly data to help fill the void
Janine Massey, DUC’s director of marketing and communications, said a critical part of the Dragonfly project is simply getting people to explore their local wetlands.
“To truly appreciate the importance of wetlands, you have to experience them,” Massey said. “Anything that allows people to get out, explore and appreciate the incredible biodiversity that exists in wetlands really helps us.”
The observations collected by citizen scientists through this project will help fill a gap in data that would otherwise be difficult to collect, Massey said. She gave the example of a BC Parks project that saw a citizen scientist report the first grappletail dragonfly sighting in 40 years.
“We have already, in recent years, seen people discovering species that we did not expect. Species that we didn’t think were here,” Massey said. “It happened completely through citizen science platforms.”
Paterson said that to help protect wetlands and the species that inhabit them, action must also be taken at the national level. As it is home to such a large percentage of the world’s wetlands, he said Canada has a unique responsibility to conserve them that is not being fulfilled.
“In order to protect wetlands, we first need to have an idea of how many are left,” Paterson said. “We don’t have a national inventory of where all these wetlands are, which we need to be able to see how fast they’re declining. [and] implement conservation measures.
After launching Project Dragonfly two weeks ago, Massey said 85 of the 211 species of dragonflies and damselflies in Canada have already been sighted. She said that by the end of the project in August, she expects all 211 species to be registered.
Massey added that if people aren’t passionate about dragonflies, perhaps they can be encouraged to get involved because of their distaste for a dragonfly’s favorite meal: mosquitoes.
“I think if you’re not so captivated by dragonflies, you can still get on board with the positive impact they have.”