Habitat loss and climate change are having a serious impact on Europe’s butterflies, beetles and dragonflies. The release of the latest European Red List, commissioned by the European Commission, shows that nine percent of butterflies, 11 percent of 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™.
EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: "Nature's future is our
future, and if it fails, we will fail too. So when a Red List like this
raises the alarm, the implications for our ecosystems and for our own future
are clear. This is a worrying decline."
Jane Smart, Director, IUCN Biodiversity Conservation Group said: ‘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.”
One third of European butterfly species in decline
Today’s studies reveal that nearly a third (31 percent) of Europe’s 435 butterfly species have declining populations and 9 percent are already threatened with extinction. The Madeiran Large White Butterfly (Pieris wollastoni) is Critically Endangered, and may be 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.
Beetles and dragonflies also at risk
This is the first time that the IUCN has assessed saproxylic beetles, which depend on decaying wood 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 these 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 throughout 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 is 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.
The European Red List – compiled using the same criteria as the global IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, but limited to Europe – is a review of the conservation status of c. 6,000 European species (mammals, reptiles, amphibians, freshwater fishes, butterflies, dragonflies, and selected groups of beetles, molluscs, and vascular plants). It identifies species that are threatened with extinction at the regional level so that conservation action can be taken to improve their status. The European Red List is primarily funded by the European Commission.
Species are assigned to one of eight categories of threat. Species listed as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable are collectively described as ‘Threatened’. The IUCN Red List is a compendium of information on the threats to the species, their ecological requirements, where they live, and information on conservation actions that can be used to reduce or prevent extinctions.
The Commission is currently developing its position for a new global target to halt the decline in biodiversity to be discussed at the Convention on Biodiversity COP in Nagoya in October.
IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, is the world's oldest and largest global environmental network, with more than 1,000 government and NGO member organizations, and almost 11,000 volunteer scientists and experts in some 160 countries. IUCN's work is supported by over 1,000 professional staff in 60 offices and hundreds of partners in public, NGO and private sectors around the world. IUCN's headquarters are located in Gland, near Geneva, in Switzerland.
Return to Environmental Articles