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The Irish Times

Climate Change and Habitat Loss Posing Great Threat to Europe's Small Creatures

Frank McDonald

This handout picture released by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and taken on May 29, 2008, shows a Giant Jewel (Chlorocypha centripunctata), found in southeast Nigeria and southwest Cameroon. The destruction of natural habitats in Europe is wiping out butterfly, beetle and dragonfly species across the region, the updated European "Red List" of endangered species has showed. (AFP/IUCN/File/Kai Schuette)

THE LATEST European Red List, commissioned by the EU and released yesterday, shows that habitat loss and climate change are having a serious impact on Europe’s butterflies, beetles and dragonflies.

Nine per cent of butterflies, 11 per cent of beetles – which depend on decaying wood and are essential for recycling nutrients in the soil – and 14 per cent of dragonflies are threatened with extinction in Europe.

Ireland fares relatively well, with just one butterfly under serious threat, the Large Heath. Results show many Irish dragonfly, beetle and butterfly populations as “stable”.

A few are classed as in decline, but not yet in danger. This compares well with results for other small EU member states such as Slovenia and Austria, where a larger number of species are classed as under threat.

Some indigenous European species are so threatened that they are at risk of global extinction, and are now included in an update of the
Red List of Threatened Species , compiled by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The latest study reveals that 31 per cent of Europe’s 435 butterfly species have declining populations, and 9 per cent are threatened with extinction. The Madeiran Large White Butterfly may already be extinct, having not been seen for at least 20 years.

The main threats to saproxylic beetles are habitat loss due to logging, and the decline in mature tree numbers.

The Violet Click Beetle, which inhabits large tree cavities containing wood mould, is under threat from changing woodland management practices.

Fourteen per cent of 130 dragonfly species are at risk, with five of these threatened with global extinction. Like butterflies, most dragonflies are found in southern parts of Europe, where hot summers and intensified water extraction are drying up their wetland habitats.

“This is a worrying decline,” said EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik. “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.”

Jane Smart, IUCN Biodiversity Conservation Group director, said small species were just as important as more charismatic pandas and tigers. “Butterflies, for instance, play a hugely pivotal role as pollinators in the ecosystems in which they live.”

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