Evaluating firefly extinction risk: Initial red list assessments for North America

PLoS One. 2021 Nov 17;16(11):e0259379. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0259379. eCollection 2021.


Fireflies are a family of charismatic beetles known for their bioluminescent signals. Recent anecdotal reports suggest that firefly populations in North America may be in decline. However, prior to this work, no studies have undertaken a systematic compilation of geographic distribution, habitat specificity, and threats facing North American fireflies. To better understand their extinction risks, we conducted baseline assessments according to the categories and criteria of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List for 132 species from the United States and Canada (approximately 79% of described species in the region). We found at least 18 species (14%) are threatened with extinction (e.g. categorized as Critically Endangered, Endangered, or Vulnerable) due to various pressures, including habitat loss, light pollution, and climate change (sea level rise and drought). In addition, more than half of the species (53%) could not be evaluated against the assessment criteria due to insufficient data, highlighting the need for further study. Future research and conservation efforts should prioritize monitoring and protecting populations of at-risk species, preserving and restoring habitat, gathering data on population trends, and filling critical information gaps for data deficient species suspected to be at risk.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Extinction, Biological
  • Fireflies*
  • Light Pollution

Grants and funding

CEF and SJ were funded by the Samuel Freeman Charitable Trust, the Edward Gorey Charitable Trust (https://edwardgorey.org/), the New-Land Foundation (http://newlandfoundation.org/), Morningstar Foundation (http://themorningstarfoundation.com/), and Xerces Society members. ACW was funded by the New Mexico BioPark Society (https://bioparksociety.org/main/). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.