Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

Salameander: Haunted by Dragonflies

Salameanderby Peg Bostwick, ASWM

Have you ever been attracted to a plant or animal just because of its name?  I was recently introduced (via print – I have yet to make personal acquaintance) to a pair of tiny emerald dragonflies: the Ebony Boghaunter (Williamsoniafletcheri) and its cousin the Ringed Boghaunter (Williamsonialintneri).   BOGHAUNTER!  How wonderfully descriptive.   Responding in the same way that I do to the irresistible title of a novel, I found myself
peg710141reading about these tiny creatures.   And now, when I read about climate change and peatlands, I am the one who is haunted by the boghaunters.

These diminutive (1.5 inch) and relatively uncommon dragonflies are also inconspicuous; they are neither large nor showy, and emerge as adults in May to spend only a couple of months in flight.  Their range includes isolated areas of the northeastern U.S. and southern Canada, typically in sphagnum pools surrounded by upland or wetland woods.  The associated forest habitat is considered essential for roosting, hunting, and mating. While not federally listed, these insects are considered rare or endangered in some states.

According to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, the primary threats to boghaunters are habitat destruction and pollution. Alteration of bog hydrology can destroy habitat, but so can loss of surrounding forests.  And because bogs are inherently sensitive to changes in nutrient levels, pollution from urban or rural runoff can also be damaging.  Another critical pollutant source in urban areas may be the use of chemicals to control mosquitoes.

Of course, climate change may also have an adverse effect on this northern habitat in the long term. In a peatland, preservation to protect the bog from physical and chemical
peg710142impacts can also mitigate for climate change impacts by maintaining carbon storage.  Drainage of peatlands will result in significant release of carbon as organic matter is oxidized.

Restoration of peatland hydrology in previously drained areas can allow carbon sequestration to resume, while increasing resiliency for the specialized plants and animals that reside in the bog.

The exceptional ability of peatlands to sequester carbon is commonly recognized.  A recent article in the National Wetland Newsletter (Jan-Feb 2014) reports on a Fish and Wildlife Service collaboration with other stakeholders to provide increased biological carbon sequestration through restoration of peatlands in the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina.  As pointed out in this article, forested peatlands cover only 3% of the world’s land area, but contain twice the carbon stock of all forest biomass worldwide.  While the Pocosin Lakes refuge is outside of the range of boghaunters, the same theories apply to their northern habitat. Additional research is needed to fully quantify greenhouse gas benefits, but with this knowledge it is anticipated that peatland restoration throughout the U.S. could potentially be supported by carbon trading markets in the future.

peg710143Thus an inch long dragonfly stitchesone more tinylink in the intricate tapestry being woven by natural habitat, humanity’s management of land and water, and a changing climate.  The fate of these insects touches our own, since as so often happens actions that protect the habitat of the little boghaunters will also benefit us -maintaining or increasing carbon sequestration.  We may hope that the iridescent wings and shining green eyes of the boghaunters continue to grace northern sphagnum pools for many decades, and not haunt us in the future only a ghostly form.

More reading:

Sara Ward and Scott Settelmyer.  Carbon Sequestration Benefits of Peatland Restoration: Attracting New Partners to Restore National Wildlife Refuge Habitats.   National Wetlands Newsletter, January-February 2014.

Fact sheet from the Massachusetts Natural Heritage Endangered Species Programs on the Ebony Boghaunter:  click here

Fact sheet from the Wisconsin Department of Natural resources on the Ringed Boghaunter:  click here.

Ringed Boghaunter species profile from the University of New Hampshire:  click here

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