By Laura Zuckerman
(Reuters) - The expected disappearance of the famed glaciers at Montana's Glacier National Park by 2030 could spell doom for a rare aquatic insect confined to high mountain streams that are warming due to climate change, U.S. scientists said on Thursday.
The western glacier stonefly lives only in a few streams at Glacier National Park. First identified in 1963, the bug's population has declined sharply along with the park's glaciers, U.S. Geological Survey researchers said in a study in the journal Freshwater Science.
The stonefly has disappeared from the bulk of its historical range, with sampling by scientists from 2011 to 2013 showing the insect in just one of the six streams it once occupied. It was also found in two new locations at higher elevations with cooler water, according to the study.
Data collected from 1960 to 2012 shows glaciers at the park, which encompasses more than a million acres on Montana's border with Canada, are likely to disappear by 2030, according to the study.
The rapid melting associated with climate change has, in turn, spurred warming of streams once directly fed by glaciers that have since receded.
The study, led by USGS aquatic entomologist Joe Giersch, is the first to document redistribution of an aquatic keystone species - one that plays a pivotal role in its ecosystem - in the Rockies because of higher temperatures and glacial recession.
Giersch said the stonefly is representative of an entire, unique ecosystem expected to undergo a dramatic alteration linked to climate change. The expected disappearance of the glaciers means fewer alpine streams even at higher elevations.
"Soon there will be nowhere left for the stonefly to go," he said.
The western glacier stonefly is one of two such water bugs endemic to Glacier National Park undergoing review by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for Endangered Species Act protections due to glacial loss from climate change.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Will Dunham)