The stone fly to test the Victorian Endangered Species Act

New laws on endangered species will be tested on a wingless stone fly and environmentalists say a planned mountain bike trail threatens the creatures’ existence.

The Victorian National Parks Association (VNPA) has submitted the first official nomination to designate Critical Habitat for Wingless Donna Buang Stone Mountain.

The endangered insect is known to live a few square kilometers in shallow streams in the Yarra Ranges National Park, northeast of Melbourne.

The Parks Association says portions of the proposed mountain bike trail that run through the national park pose a threat to the species.

“The Donna Buang mountain fly is a truly remarkable creature staring into the crater of extinction,” AARP member Matt Rochelle told the AAP.

While much of the planned trail runs through state forests, large portions within the national park have already been rejected by former Victorian Planning Minister Lizzie Blandthorne.

The VNPA believes all remaining trails within the national park should be shelved to protect stoneflies and is filing for protection under the Critical Habitat Designation, an untested legal provision of the state’s environmental laws that took effect in 2020.

The Scientific Advisory Committee will evaluate the application on Monday before making recommendations to Secretary of Energy, Environment and Climate Action John Bradley, who then grants or denies the decision.

DEECA has been contacted for comment.

“We hope that management and the Scientific Advisory Committee will exercise their authority to save the precious stonefly,” said Mr. Rochelle.

“If we can secure critical habitat identification for stoneflies, it will set a strong precedent for other creatures on the long list of nearly 2,000 threatened species.”

The stone fly is one of only two wingless species found in Australia, has a long lifespan of up to three years, and tolerates dry summers by burrowing into the icy substrate.

From an evolutionary point of view, wings are of little use to the stone fly Donna Buang due to its local habitat.

Invertebrates are hard to find, and University of Melbourne PhD student Eddie Tsyrlin, who has studied stoneflies since 1993, is testing water samples for traces of DNA to gauge their prevalence.

“The stream in which they live is not designated as a stream because it is too small,” Mr Tsyrlin told the AAP.

Brendan Wintle, Principal Adviser to the Council on Biological Diversity, said Australia was losing species at an unprecedented rate and insect species such as the stone fly played critical roles in ecosystems such as pollination and soil creation through decomposition.

“Every species we lose is like losing another rivet from an airplane wing,” Professor Wintel said.

Eventually the plane will crash.

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