Ray Bradbury didn’t invent the phrase "Butterfly Effect," but in 1952 he used it in the seminal science fiction story, "A Sound of Thunder." In his story, time travelers visit prehistoric times, taking great care to alter nothing. But one traveler accidentally steps on a prehistoric butterfly, creating a ripple effect that changes modern history for the worse.
When it comes to the ripples that our actions of today create in the world of tomorrow, we are all time travelers.
Last week, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it will determine whether the western glacier stonefly should be added to the federal lists of threatened or endangered wildlife and plants.
This aquatic insect is a little link on the food chain that could disappear as its habitat — the glacier-fed streams in parts of Montana’s Glacier National Park — deteriorates due to warming temperatures.
Earlier this year, Fish and Wildlife made legal settlements with several environmental groups, agreeing to look at the status of over 750 species of plants and animals. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and Center for Biological Diversity petitioned on behalf of the rare stonefly, last collected in 1979.
According to the Xerces Society’s scientific findings, "the western glacier stonefly, known from only five small streams on the east side of the Continental Divide in Glacier National Park, is dependent on extremely cold glacial meltwater for its survival.
"The park’s glaciers are predicted to disappear as early as 2030 as a result of climate change, and with them this unique invertebrate."
The park had about 150 glaciers in 1850, but only 25 remain — and they continue to shrink as it heats up.
Take the stoneflies out of the rivers and streams, and soon other differences in the ecosystem will appear.
Fly fishers already know this, according to Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "The impending loss of the western glacier stonefly is a harbinger of change that will result in the loss of millions of species, disruption of food production, loss of water storage in mountain glaciers, flooding of coastal areas and other impacts that threaten our very way of life."
Talk about your Butterfly Effect.
Let’s bring this closer to home. Central Kansas is home to not one but two Wetlands of International Importance — Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. The whooping crane, which visits both sites, is already protected by the Endangered Species Act. Kansas has five or six other species on the new "review lists": Lesser prairie chicken, Neosho mucket mussel, Northern long-eared bat, Oklahoma grass pink orchid, rabbitsfoot mussel and the Arkansas darter.
Arkansas darters, tiny fish that are only 1-3 inches long, were found as nearby as the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge last October, when the refuge sponsored an event to see how many species of plants and animals could be found at Quivira in a 24-hour period.
The Arkansas darter’s decline has been attributed to depletion of groundwater, which results in streams going dry. Human activity does have an impact on other species. In some cases, the ripples will be felt in generations to come.
With others, we can see the butterfly’s wings unfurl before our very eyes. The Butterfly Effect even applies to butterflies and moths, of which more than 20 species are listed as endangered. Many may become extinct due to loss of their habitat.
(Susan Thacker is a reporter for the Great Bend Tribune. Send her e-mail at email@example.com.)