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Bugs off: Habitat loss killing Europe’s butterflies, beetles and dragonflies

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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violet click beetleWith fewer places left to breed and live, European butterflies, beetles, dragonflies and damselflies are dying in droves, according to the latest update to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The Red List update finds that 9 percent of Europe’s butterflies, 11 percent of its saproxylic beetles and 14 percent of dragonflies are threatened with extinction, at least within the geographic confines of the European Union (E.U.). Some of these species exist on more than one continent, whereas others have more limited habitats and thereby are more vulnerable to extinction.

This is the first time that saproxylic beetles (which depend on decaying wood for their sustenance) have been assessed for the Red List.

This follows a similar report that found Mediterranean dragonflies and damselflies also in distress due to declining water supplies. (Read our coverage of that report here.)

The new report comes as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) meets this week in Qatar to discuss species such as tigers, bluefin tuna, elephants and rhinoceroses. "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," said Jane Smart, director of the IUCN Biodiversity Conservation Group, in a prepared statement. "Butterflies, for instance, play a hugely pivotal role as pollinators in the ecosystems in which they live."

According to the report, 31 percent of Europe’s 435 butterfly species suffer declining populations; a third of the total exist nowhere else but in the E.U.—and 22 of those endemic species are at risk of extinction. Of the 130 dragonfly species found on the Continent, five endangered species exist only in the E.U. And of the 431 beetle species found in Europe, seven percent (29 species) exist only there and are at risk of global extinction.

The habitat loss afflicting these species comes from many factors, including agriculture, climate change, logging and the depletion of freshwater resources.

Image: Violet click beetle (Limoniscus violaceous), a species the IUCN says is "under threat from changing woodland management practices." Via the U.K. Biodiversity Action Plan

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  1. 1. candide 8:31 am 03/19/2010

    But pests, mosquitos, fleas and the like seem to be on the rise.

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  2. 2. spottedpanther 11:11 am 03/19/2010

    The real truth is purely political, for instance, in France , 66000 acres vanish into thin air each year, swallowed up by infrastructures such as TGV (fast train), airports, motorways… Half of the population live in cities or individual houses far from nature, and they just don’t give a damn. The actual governement supports the industrial agriculture and pesticide lobbys. And they start to open their door to GMOs. And what can we do about it? There are indeed small areas protected surrounded by nitrates, nuclear powerplants, pesticides, … All our environment is now ruined. So yes, NGOs are crying out : the 6th extinction of wildlife species has started long time ago. But, as usual, we will have to wait for a certain number of deaths to take measures. How many? and above all, when?

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  3. 3. Leisel 3:20 am 03/20/2010

    The fact that the threatened extinction is "at least within the geographic confines of the EU" shows what a stupid scare campaign this is. Are you suggesting these insects will just sit there and die? Of course not! They will simply move to another area. This is a typical example of illogical and alarmist rubbish.

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  4. 4. Leisel 3:29 am 03/20/2010

    Talking about insects facing extinction "at least within the geographic confines of the EU " is deceptive. Are you saying these insects will just sit there and die? Of course not! They will simply move somewhere else. When animals or insects disappear from a particular area, it is completely idiotic to say they are "extinct in that area". If the species are still alive ANYWHERE then they are NOT extinct…Such scare tactics are unfortunately becoming more & more common.

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  5. 5. Leckie 6:06 am 03/20/2010

    Sillines such as Leisel’s need to be called what it is. An American butterfly fancier living in Europe, I can assure readers that the numbers given here are probably conservative. The diversity of the western European ecosystem is at issue here. Apparently for "extinction" to be meaningful to the simple-minded political right, it must have no boundaries: horses became extinct in North America, where they originated, survived in Eurasia, but were critical later in the very processes (agri-monoculture) that have led to further systemic extinctions. But that process required milennia and was not simple by any means. This event is occuring very quickly. Insects, including butterflies, are critical members of our communities, global,, regional, local. That is the reason for concern.

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  6. 6. Leckie 6:08 am 03/20/2010

    And such things deserve the indignation that caused my typos!

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  7. 7. DavOAus 4:21 pm 03/23/2010

    mosquitos, fleas and the like enjoy our company and will go when we do or maybe outlive us

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  8. 8. verdai 8:42 pm 04/4/2010

    Will there never be a fact in this matter? Just how much evidence from one side or the other will it take for the world to move?
    You know, I can no longer even read this kind of story, it is so overwhelmingly tragic.

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