Date of this Version
Current Species Status: Nicrophorus americanus, formerly distributed throughout temperate eastern North America, now persists in only two widely separated natural populations: a small but apparently stable population on Block Island off the coast of Rhode Island, and a lower-density but more widespread population in eastern Oklahoma. In addition, three laboratory colonies are being maintained, and in 1990 and 1991, about 90 N. americanus were reintroduced to historical habitat on Penikese Island, Massachusetts. Based on the drastic decline and extirpation of the species over nearly its entire historical range, the American burying beetle was listed as endangered in July 1989.
Habitat Requirements and Limiting Factors: The Block Island population occurs on glacial moraine deposits vegetated with a post-agricultural maritime scrub plant community. In eastern Oklahoma N. americanus is known primarily from oak-hickory forest and grasslands of the Ozark uplift, and in the Cuachita Mountains in areas described as forest/pasture ecotone and open pasture. Little is known about the habitats associated with most historical collections of N. americanus. Considering the broad geographic range of the species, it is likely that vegetational structures and soil types are not generally limiting for this burying beetle. While it is clear that certain conditions are not suitable for carcass burial (e.g., very xeric, saturated, or loose sandy soils), it is probable that carrion availability in a given area is more important to the species occurrence than vegetation or soils per Se. Nevertheless, habitat parameters undoubtedly influence the prey base as well as the presence of competitors for limited carrion resources.
Recovery Objectives: The interim objective is to reduce the immediacy of the threat of extinction to the American burying beetle, and the longer range objective is to improve its status so that it can be reclassified from endangered to threatened.
Recovery Criteria: The interim objective will be met when the extant eastern and western populations are sufficiently protected and maintained, and when at least two additional self-sustaining populations of 500 or more beetles are established, one in the eastern and one in the western part of the historical range. Reclassification will be considered when (a) 3 populations have been established (or discovered) within each of 4 geographical areas (Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, and the Great Lake states), (b) each population contains 500+ adults, (c) each population is self-sustaining for 5 consecutive years, and, ideally, each primary population contains several satellite populations.
1. Protect and manage extant populations
2. Maintain captive populations
3. Continue Penikese Island reintroduction effort
4. Conduct studies
5. Conduct searches for additional populations
6. Characterize habitat and conduct vertebrate inventories
7. Conduct additional reintroductions
8. Continue to conduct research into the species’ decline
9. Conduct information and education programs