Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Newly Discovered Insect Species in the NJ Pine Barrens May Already Be Threatened

A male F. whitcombi leafhopper. Credit: Andrew Hicks
A new grass-eating species of insect was discovered to be living in the Jersey Pine Barrens of New Jersey. This leafhopper (Flexamia whitcombi) had previously escaped notice. - and at least one scientist worried that it might not be around for very much longer.

Unfortunately, this leafhopper depends on a single species of New Jersey grass, the pine barren smokegrass, for its food. Smokegrass is on the state's threatened species list. There are over 800 endangered plants and species of special concern in NJ.

M. torreyana pinebarren smokegrass    Credit: Uri Lorimer
As of now, scientists don't know for sure if the insect lives in the other regions of the eastern U.S. where the smokegrass also grows ( Tennessee and North Carolina).

If the leafhopper is unique to the Pine Barrens, there's a particular reason for concern, even though its food source is still relatively abundant there. Andrew Hicks of the Museum of Natural History at the University of Colorado writes:
 "The Pine Barrens are already suffering the effects of a warming climate, as evidenced by the recent irruption there of the Southern Pine Beetle. Should the effects of climate change or other anthropomorphic pressures cause the local extinction of the host (as has apparently already occurred elsewhere in its range), there will be little opportunity for the survival of this Flexamia. But that might be said of most species described today."


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