March 16, 2010

Europe’s Insects Threatened By Habitat Loss

Species of butterflies, beetles and dragonflies are being wiped out across Europe due to destruction of their natural habitats, according to the updated European "Red List" of endangered species Tuesday.

435 butterfly species have been examined by scientists, who found that one in three species are dying out and 9 percent are already on the edge of extinction.

"Most butterflies at risk are confined to southern Europe," Annabelle Cuttelod, coordinator of the European Red List at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), told the AFP news agency.

"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," she added.

Some beetle species that rely on decaying wood have also been affected heavily by logging. Known as saproxylic beetles, these insects play an important role in the ecosystem by recycling nutrients. As many as 46 species are at risk of extinction within the region, while 7 percent are threatened with extinction worldwide.

"The main long-term threats to saproxylic beetles are habitat loss due to logging and the decline in the number of mature trees," said the IUCN.

And for dragonflies, depletion of freshwater resources are causing these insects to rapidly decline in numbers. Five percent of dragonfly species are threatened with extinction around the world, while 11 percent are near threatened in Europe.

The IUCN said that hot and dry summers and the intensity in "water extraction for drinking and irrigation are causing the dragonflies' wetland habitats to dry up."

Some 6,000 European species are including in the IUCN's Red List, which covers more than 47,000 species from around the world, and is considered the most respected inventory of biodiversity.


Image Caption: The Two-tailed Pasha Charaxes jasius is confined to the Mediterranean region where it breeds on Strawberry Trees Arbutus unedo. Although not currently threatened, models predict that it could be very badly affected by climate change. Photograph © Chris van Swaay


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