A newly-discovered species of small caddisfly, endemic to a national park in Kosovo, has been named after the coronavirus. While the study of this new insect was impacted by the same pandemic that inspired its scientific name, the researchers hope to bring attention to another “silent pandemic” occurring on freshwater organisms in Kosovo’s rivers.
This is caused by the pollution and degradation of freshwater habitats, coupled with the activity increasing in recent years of mismanaged hydropower plants, an official news release explains.
The species, Potamophylax coronavirus, was collected near a stream in the Bjeshkët e Nemuna National Park in Kosovo by a team of scientists, led by professor Halil Ibrahimi of the University of Prishtina. After molecular and morphological analyses, it was described as a caddisfly species, new to science in the open-access, peer-reviewed Biodiversity Data Journal. Although the insect was collected a few years ago, the new species was only described during the global pandemic, which is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Hence the name, P. coronavirus.
The river basin of the Lumbardhi i Deçanit River, where the new species was discovered, has turned into a “battlefield” for scientists and civil society on one side and the management of the hydropower plant operating on this river on the other, the release explains. According to the paper, freshwater ecosystems in the area where the new species was found, have been extremely threatened during the past years by anthropogenic activities, such as deforestation, habitat destruction, hydropower plants and touristic activities. In addition, many springs in the area are mismanaged and endangered by individual water intake pipes from nearby houses and touristic facilities. The change in water regime may greatly threaten aquatic diversity in the near future, the paper adds.
The small insect order of Trichoptera, where P. coronavirus belongs, is very sensitive to water pollution and habitat deterioration. The authors of the new species argue that it is a small-scale endemic taxon, very sensitive to the ongoing activities in Lumbardhi i Deçanit river. If this situation is not understood and addressed, this may drive the P. coronavirus and many other species towards extinction.
In the same paper, authors also identified a few other new species from isolated habitats in the Balkan Peninsula. The Western Balkans and especially Kosovo, the release explains, have proved to be an important hotspot of freshwater biodiversity. These species are still awaiting description upon collection of further specimens.