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For Immediate Release, December 5, 2008

Contact: Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185

Fish and Wildlife Service Designates Critical Habitat for
Hawaii’s Endemic Picture-wing Flies
Imperiled Invertebrates Taught Us About Evolution, May Have Medicinal Value

SAN FRANCISCO— The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week announced habitat protections under the Endangered Species Act for 12 species of Hawaii’s endemic picture-wing flies — small insects in the Drosophilidae family known as the “birds of paradise” of the insect world because of their colorful wing patterns and intricate mating rituals. As a result of a lawsuit and settlement agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity, the Service on Thursday designated 8,788 acres of critical habitat for the picture-wings in four counties in Hawaii — the city and county of Honolulu, Hawaii, Maui, and Kauai.

“Protection of critical habitat is essential for the recovery of Hawaiian picture-wings, unique and extraordinary Hawaiian endemic species,” said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The picture-wings are often overlooked, but have made significant contributions to science.”

Few Hawaiian species are as amazing as the 111 species of picture-wing flies that have evolved from a single female that migrated from the mainland some 5 million years ago. The study of the picture-wings, one of the most remarkable examples of specific adaptation to local conditions, has contributed greatly to humanity’s understanding of biology and evolution. Scientists recently determined that Hawaiian picture-wings and their associated ecological communities have traits that are enormously important in humanity’s search to cure diseases such as West-Nile virus, AIDS, and even cancer.

Each of the 12 species of picture-wing flies (Drosophila aglaia, D. differens, D. hemipeza, D. heteroneura, D. montgomeryi, D. mulli, D. musaphilia, D. neoclavisetae, D. obatai, D. ochrobasis, D. substenoptera, and D. tarphytrichia) is found on a single Hawaiian island, inhabiting low to montane forests with such tree species as ohia, koa, Diospyros, and Cheirodendron. The larvae are dependent upon only a single or a few related plant species, while the adult flies feed on a variety of decomposing plant matter.

Scientists sounded warning bells in 1995 that a dozen species of Hawaiian picture-wings were on the precipice of extinction. When the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to take action to protect them, the Center and the Conservation Council for Hawaii filed a lawsuit in 2005, resulting in listing of a dozen species in 2006 under the Endangered Species Act. Eleven species were designated as endangered, and one as threatened.

In 2006, the Service proposed designating only 18 acres of critical habitat for the picture-wings. This clearly inadequate decision was made by disgraced former Bush administration official Julie MacDonald, notorious for tampering with Endangered Species Act decisions. MacDonald was forced to resign and the Service has subsequently had to reverse many of her flawed decisions. The Center renegotiated the picture-wing habitat settlement with the Service, resulting in this final designation of 8,788 acres of protected habitat.

Male picture-wings occupy territories that serve as mating arenas and attract receptive females. The males of different species use different techniques to ward off competing suitors. When a male has secured his position, he performs a detailed choreography of behaviors for females, with each species having its own ritual. If he does not convey the right moves and messages, the female leaves without mating. The larval stages of most picture-wing species are saprophytic (feeding on decaying leaves, bark, flowers, and fruits). Some picture-wing species have become highly specialized; for example, some feed carnivorously on spiders’ egg masses, while others feed on aquatic green algae.

Hawaiian picture-wings are imperiled primarily due to habitat destruction and the loss of suitable host plants. Ongoing threats include degradation of habitat by feral animals and invasive plants, predation by introduced yellow jackets and ants, cattle grazing, and fire.


The final critical habitat designation can be seen here:

For more information about Hawaiian picture-wings:

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national nonprofit conservation organization with 200,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.


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