Butterflies on the brink: identifying the Australian butterflies (Lepidoptera) most at risk of extinction

Date: 21, Feb, 2021
Author(s):   Geyle, H.M., Braby, M.F., Andren, M., Beaver, E.P., Bell, P., Byrne, C., Castles, M., Douglas, F., Glatz, R.V., Haywood, B., Hendry, P., Kitching, R.L., Lambkin, T.A., Meyer, C.E., Moore, M.D., Moss, J.T., Nally, S., New, T.R., Palmer, C.M., Petrie, E., Potter‐Craven, J., Richards, K., Sanderson, C., Stolarski, A., Taylor, G.S., Williams, M.R., Woinarski, J.C.Z., Garnett, S.T.
Publisher: Austral Entomology

The diversity and abundance of native invertebrates is declining globally, which could have significant consequences for ecosystem functioning. Declines are likely to be at least as severe as those observed for vertebrates, although often are difficult to quantify due to a lack of historic baseline data and limited monitoring effort. The Lepidoptera are well studied in Australia compared with other invertebrates, so we know that some species are imperilled or declining. Despite this, few butterfly taxa are explicitly listed for protection by legislation. Here we aim to identify the butterfly taxa that would most benefit from listing by determining the Australian butterflies at most immediate risk of extinction. We also identify the research and management actions needed to retain them. For 26 taxa identified by experts and various conservation schedules, we used structured expert elicitation to estimate the probability of extinction within 20 years (i.e. by 2040) and to identify key threatening processes, priority research and management needs. Collation and analysis of expert opinion indicated that one taxon, the laced fritillary (Argynnis hyperbius inconstans), is particularly imperilled, and that four taxa (Jalmenus eubulus, Jalmenus aridus, Hypochrysops piceatus and Oreisplanus munionga larana) have a moderate–high (>30%) risk of extinction by 2040. Mapped distributions of the 26 butterflies revealed that most are endemic to a single state or territory, and that many occupy narrow ranges. Inappropriate fire regimes, habitat loss and fragmentation (through agricultural practices), invasive species (mostly through habitat degradation caused by weeds and rabbits) and climate change were the most prevalent threats affecting the taxa considered. Increased resourcing and management intervention will be required to prevent these extinctions. We provide specific recommendations for averting such losses.