News Release

Habitat loss blamed for more species decline

16 March 2010
Coenonympha orientalis. Photo © Neil Thompson

Habitat loss is having a serious impact on Europe’s butterflies, beetles and dragonflies. The release of the European Red List, commissioned by the European Commission, shows that nine percent of butterflies, 11 percent of saproxylic beetles (beetles that depend on decaying wood) and 14 percent of dragonflies are threatened with extinction within Europe. Some species are so threatened that they are at risk of global extinction and are now included in the latest update of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™.

“When talking about threatened species, people tend to think of larger, more charismatic creatures such as pandas or tigers, but we mustn’t forget that the small species on our planet are just as important, and are also in need of conservation action. Butterflies, for instance, play a hugely pivotal role as pollinators in the ecosystems in which they live,” says Jane Smart, Director, IUCN Biodiversity Conservation Group.

Chris van Swaay
Nickerl’s Fritillary
(Melitaea aurelia)

According to new studies commissioned by the European Commission and carried out by IUCN, Butterfly Conservation Europe and the European Invertebrates Survey, nearly a third (31 percent) of Europe’s 435 butterfly species have declining populations and nine percent are already threatened with extinction. For example, the Madeiran Large White Butterfly (Pieris wollastoni) is Critically Endangered (possibly extinct), having not been seen on Madeira for at least 20 years, and the Macedonian Grayling Butterfly (Pseudochazara cingovskii) in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is also Critically Endangered because quarrying activities are reducing its habitat. A third of Europe’s butterflies (142 species) are found nowhere else in the world, and 22 of these endemic species (15 percent) are globally threatened.

“Most butterflies at risk are confined to southern Europe; their main threat is habitat loss, most often caused by changes in agricultural practices, either through intensification or abandonment, or to climate change, forest fires and the expansion of tourism,”’ says Annabelle Cuttelod, IUCN Coordinator of the European Red List.

For the first time, saproxylic beetles have been assessed for the IUCN Red List. These beetles are unique because they are highly dependent on decaying wood, particularly in forests, and play an essential role in recycling nutrients. A third of the 431 species assessed are unique to Europe. Almost 11 percent (46 species) are at risk of being lost from the region, and seven percent (29 species) are threatened with extinction at the global level. A further 13 percent (56 species) are listed as Near Threatened within Europe.

The main long-term threats to saproxylic beetles are habitat loss due to logging and the decline in the number of mature trees. The Violet Click Beetle (Limoniscus violaceous) is an Endangered species that typically lives in large tree cavities containing wood mould. It is under threat from changing woodland management practices.

Dragonflies occur almost everywhere in Europe, with the highest numbers in southern France, the foothills of the Alps and parts of the Balkan Peninsula. Fourteen percent of the 130 dragonfly species assessed are at risk; five of these are threatened with global extinction. A further 11 percent are considered Near Threatened within Europe. Like butterflies, most of the threatened species are confined to southern parts of Europe. Increasingly hot and dry summers combined with intensified water extraction for drinking and irrigation are causing the dragonflies’ wetland habitats to dry up.

Three of the most threatened dragonflies of Europe are endemic to the brooks and small rivers of Greece and nearby countries, including Albania, Bulgaria and Turkey. If no action is taken species like the Greek Red Damsel may become extinct during the first half of this century.

"Nature's future is our future, and if it fails, we will fail too,” says EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik. “The ecosystem services nature provides, like the provision of food and water and climate regulation, are the vital backbone of our future prosperity. So when a Red List like this raises the alarm, the implications for our own future are clear. This is a worrying decline."

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