Destruction and damage to wetlands and rivers is putting one in six dragonfly species at risk of extinction, the first global assessment of them has found.
The warning comes in the latest update of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species – which for the first time now has more than 40,000 species at risk of extinction.
The assessment of 6,016 species of dragonflies and damselflies finds that 16% are threatened as freshwater breeding grounds, such as marshes, swamps and free-flowing rivers, increasingly deteriorate.
Declines in dragonflies underscore the urgent need to protect wetlands, which provide humans with clean water and food, store carbon and are home to one in 10 of the world’s known species, the wildlife experts said.
The Pyrenean desman – a semiaquatic mammal related to moles with a long sensitive nose and large webbed feet and found only in rivers in Andorra, France, Portugal and Spain – has also seen its situation worsen, moving from vulnerable to extinction to the higher-risk category of endangered.
Its population has declined by as much as 50% throughout its range since 2011, as human impacts such as hydropower plants, dam and reservoir construction, water taken for agriculture, invasive species, illegal fishing, water pollution, climate-driven droughts and excavation of rivers take their toll.
The reasons for dragonfly and damselfly declines vary around the world, the IUCN said, with pesticides, pollutants and climate change the greatest threats in Europe and North America and a growing risk worldwide.
More than a quarter of species threatened in South and South East Asia, mostly due to clearing of rainforest and wetland for crops such as palm oil.
In Central and South America, the major cause of their decline is clearing of forests for residential and commercial construction, the conservation body said.
Dr Bruno Oberle, IUCN director general, said: “By revealing the global loss of dragonflies, today’s Red List update underscores the urgent need to protect the world’s wetlands and the rich tapestry of life they harbour.
“Globally, these ecosystems are disappearing three times faster than forests.
“Marshes and other wetlands may seem unproductive and inhospitable to humans, but in fact they provide us with essential services.
“They store carbon, give us clean water and food, protect us from floods, as well as offer habitats for one in ten of the world’s known species.”
Dr Viola Clausnitzer, co-chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission dragonfly specialist group, said: “Dragonflies are highly sensitive indicators of the state of freshwater ecosystems, and this first global assessment finally reveals the scale of their decline.”
She added: “To conserve these beautiful insects, it is critical that governments, agriculture and industry consider the protection of wetland ecosystems in development projects, for example by protecting key habitats and dedicating space to urban wetlands.”
With the latest update, the IUCN Red List assesses the status of 142,577 species, of which 40,084, or more than 28%, are threatened with extinction.
That includes 8,722 species of mammal, amphibians, reptiles, birds, invertebrates and plants that are critically endangered – just one step away from extinction.