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Red list of risk

Posted on 11-04-2017 by Hilde Pracht

Photo: The Phengaris teleius, a critically endangered butterfly from the Red List

Which butterfly species are most at risk to get extinct? Red Lists are drawn up to make this clear. They provide information about trends in species distribution and abundance. However, up to now these lists did not tell us which traits are responsible for the fact that one species is more vulnerable than the other. This has now been investigated for the first time.

Researchers from the Dutch Butterfly Conservation, Wageningen University and Naturalis Biodiversity Center joined forces to list traits of a whopping 397(!) European butterfly species. They looked at traits like size, development, food choice and mobility, but also at climatic niche traits. Next, these species information was compared to vulnerability indicators as Red List status, range size and habitat choice to find out which traits were the most common in the most vulnerable species.



Pieris rapis

Photo: Pieris rapae or small white, the least vulnerable butterfly in the Netherlands.

Climatic niche traits turned out to have the biggest influence on vulnerability. Especially species that prefer ‘special’ climates, like alpine, arctic or Mediterranean conditions, have a quite restricted distribution. This makes them more vulnerable. For the other, non-climatic traits, it seems like especially mobility, development rate, and overwintering stage are important. These are all factors that influence how well species can survive in a more human-dominated environment. Species that prefer a natural environment are more vulnerable. They develop more slow, grow mostly in spring and spread less quickly.

Finally, it appeared that body size makes little difference for vulnerability. Which means it are not always the biggests that are the best!

It became clear that as many as 56 butterfly species that are not (yet) on the Red List, are at risk to end up in the danger zone. This newly gained information provides the opportunity to prevent this from happening. And, just as important: to help protecting the species that are currently in jeopardy.

The whole article is available at: http://doi.org/10.1007/s10841-017-9972-4


Sequenced butterflies

Movie: all specimens from the collection of Naturalis that were used in the research.

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