Vanishing Act: The Mystery of the Tumamoc Globeberry

It seems that a species that has been delisted as an endangered species has also been delisted from the official list of species that have been delisted. Here’s the story (so far).

While working on my forthcoming symposium article evaluating the first fifty years of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), I looked at the number of species that have been designated as endangered or threatened species under the Act, as well as those that have been “delisted.” Species are delisted either because they are no longer threatened or endangered (i.e. they have recovered), because they went extinct, or because they never should have been listed in the first place (perhaps due to a data error of some sort).

The Fish and Wildlife Service maintains data on species listing and delisting in its ECOS database.

I initially reviewed the data on ECOS in spring 2023, in preparation for a presentation. While reviewing and updating this data in the fall, however, I encountered a discrepancy. The number of species identified as “delisted” on ECOS seemed to come up short.

Reviewing the data on ECOS more carefully, I determined that the discrepancy was due to the removal of the Tumamoc globeberry (Tumamoca macdougalii). While the globeberry had been included in the list of delisted species as late as May 2023, it was no longer included in October. It’s prior ECOS page is now blank. This is odd, for there is no reason the globeberry should not still be included as a delisted species.

As detailed elsewhere on the FWS website (and in the Federal Register), the globeberry was initially listed as an endangered species in 1986. In 1993, however, the globeberry was delisted because the FWS determined that the original data upon which the listing was based had been in error. (This sort of thing happens from time to time, as those species that are most endangered are often those about which less is known, and therefore it is understandable that data about such species may be inaccurate or incomplete.)

I contacted the FWS to find out why the globeberry was removed from the tally of delisted species on ECOS. While I have not yet received an official reply, one FWS staffer suggested that the globeberry may have been pulled from ECOS because the FWS is conducting a new status assessment for the globeberry, and there is some reason to believe it could be (re)listed under the ESA based upon more recent research.

I appreciate the update, but it seems to me that removing the globeberry from ECOS was an error. At present, the globeberry is a delisted species–it was once listed, and was subsequently delisted through the formal process provided for under the ESA. It may well be the case that, based upon new and more complete data, the globeberry should be (re)listed as threatened or endangered under the Act. But unless and until that happens, it remains a delisted species, and the FWS ECOS database should reflect that fact.