Reintroducing endangered dragonfly to south Cumbria

Reintroducing endangered dragonfly to south Cumbria

In light of the WWF’s startling claim that over 60% of the world’s animal populations have been lost in little over four decades due to man-made factors, experts from the University of Cumbria are lending their genetic expertise to re-introduce an endangered dragonfly to a wildlife reserve in south Cumbria.

Initiated by the British Dragonfly Society and Cumbria Wildlife Trust in 2010, the project translocated larvae of the White-Faced Darter dragonfly from a site near Carlisle to Foulshaw Moss, near Morecambe Bay. While data shows the population at the re-introduction site has increased, their genetic diversity and viability has yet to be assessed and this is where researchers at the University of Cumbria have stepped in to help.

Researchers visited the site and measured larvae, adult dragonflies and discarded exoskeletons and recorded morphological features and behavioural and emergence traits onsite.

The team collected DNA from larvae specimens, which were tested in the university’s science laboratories. The results will be confirmed in Swedish laboratories and the samples will be also compared with the genetic code of European populations of the same species - to assess the diversity of the gene pool on a wider basis.

The samples will also be compared with historic specimens of the White-Faced Darter from an Eden valley site, dating from around 100 years ago and held in the collections of Tullie House Museum, Carlisle. It is hoped that this may shed light on the genetic relationships of the few surviving Cumbrian populations of this specialist peatland dragonfly.

“Ensuring the genetic diversity of the species is essential for the population’s survival,” said Dr Jae-Llane Ditchburn, Lecturer in Molecular Biology at the University of Cumbria.

She continued: “Without a varied gene pool, the species will decline and we are unable to tell of the dragonfly’s viability from observational techniques alone. Only DNA sequencing with comparative samples will reveal whether their future is sustainable and ultimately the fate of this rare species.”

She added, “It is the first time that the university is using molecular biology to inform a conservation project on White-Faced Darters and this technique may be applicable to other species and studies in the future.”

The samples have been sent to Sweden for testing and results and, potentially, the fate of this threatened dragonfly in Cumbria will be revealed early next year.

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