“Never Say Die” in Search of Species That We’ve Declared Extinct

(p. D1) Just a few years ago, it seemed like the scarce yellow sally stonefly had gone locally extinct.

In 1995, ecologists collected a single specimen of the aquatic insect in the River Dee near the Wales-England boundary, the species’ only known refuge. For the next two decades, every survey there failed to find another of the stonefly, which is only about a half an inch long.

“There had been so much work done to refind this beast,” said Craig Macadam, conservation director at the Invertebrate Conservation Trust, more commonly known as Buglife, a charity in Britain. “We were all beginning to give up hope.”

. . .

(p. D5) “When you actually see the animal alive in front of you and then the next year it’s gone, you feel like you’ve watched it disappear from Earth,” Mr. Davy-Bowker said. “Nobody could find it, so that was it. It just disappeared.”

But Mr. Davy-Bowker wouldn’t quit. In March 2017, during the season when the River Dee is at its coldest and deepest and stonefly nymphs are large, he put on chest waders and went in.

. . .

About 20 minutes into that day’s expedition, Mr. Davy-Bowker captured a living scarce yellow sally stonefly, upending 22 years of presumed local extinction.

“I couldn’t believe it. I was absolutely staggered, really,” he said. “I can’t tell you what a thrill it was to find it again. Never say die.”

. . .

Mr. Macadam, of the Buglife conservation charity, said the species’ rediscovery has rekindled hope for other critically endangered invertebrates that have gone missing.

“For me, it opened up the possibility that there is another species that we’ve declared extinct, that is still holding on somewhere,” he said.

For the full story see:

Marion Renault. “Don’t Believe Your Eyes.” The New York Times (Tuesday, February 25, 2020 [sic]): D1 & D5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Feb. 25, 2020 [sic], and has the title “‘Never Say Die’: Genetic Sleuths Rediscover Extinct Species.” Where there is a slight difference in wording in the last quoted sentence between the versions, the passage quoted above follows the online version.)

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