Extinction Countdown

Extinction Countdown

News and research about endangered species from around the world

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


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

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

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