The tiny Puritan Tiger Beetle is a ferocious predator, but is a having hard time surviving in an increasingly competitive world. Today we hear from evolutionary biologist Rodger Gwiazdowski of Advanced BioConsulting, LLC, who is leading a research team from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Student Conservation Association in hopes of creating a successful breeding population in their historic native New England habitat.
They slice into prey with sharp jaws – and eat everything they catch. Tiger beetles, (named for their ferocious hunting behavior) are tough, tiny insect-predators, who thrive in harsh places like deserts and beaches. Despite their tenacity, many species of tiger beetles are on endangered species lists. Unfortunately their individual “toughness” is not enough to ensure survival. What they need is to be part of something bigger – a group of many interacting populations; something ecologists call a metapopulation.
Metapopulations reduce extinction, because if any one population in the group fails (a normal event) then individuals from nearby populations can move back, or grow new populations in new habitat. But a single population that’s too small, or too far away from new habitat – risks extinction.
On a narrow riverside beach along the Connecticut River, the sleek Puritan tiger beetle, Cicindela puritana (or ‘PTB’ as tiger beetle experts call it) lives on, as the only viable population in New England. A century of human use has changed the Connecticut River’s flow, reducing critical habitat for the PTB, and eliminating a healthy metapopulation of beetles.
But now, thanks to some serious advocates, restoring a PTB metapopulation is possible. For the first time in the United States, a team from the Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge in western Massachusetts, is combining over a decade of PTB adult surveys, habitat management & acquisition, larval translocations, and captive rearing, to establish new populations of beetles at sites where they once historically flourished.
Throughout 2015-2016, a team of biologists, interns and volunteers have successfully translocated a small number of larvae to historic habitats, and worked with the Richard Cronin Aquatic Resource Center in Sunderland, Massachusetts to create a dedicated PTB lab that can rear beetles by the thousands.
Much of the project is made possible through the Cooperative Recovery Initiative program, which aims to recover federally listed species on National Wildlife Refuges and surrounding lands.
Later this fall, the team plans to reintroduce hundreds of PTB larvae, now growing in the lab, to a historical site in Massachusetts. In addition, students at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Elkinton Lab will help cold-incubate PTB larvae over the winter, which will also be reintroduced. Looking ahead a few years, the team has set their sights on several historic PTB locations, with the aim of establishing several new populations, to help re-make a PTB metapopulation in the Connecticut River.