Australian fritillary butterfly tops list at greatest risk of extinction, study reveals




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The Australian fritillary tops the list of butterflies at risk of extinction. (Supplied: Garry Sankowsky)

It’s relatively large and quite eye-catching, but it’s been many years since anyone has spotted an Australian fritillary butterfly.

In 2001, there was a confirmed sighting, and in 2015 one was reportedly seen just north of Port Macquarie, on the New South Wales Mid North Coast.

There has been nothing since.

Trevor Lambkin from University Queensland’s School of Biological Sciences said concerns were increasing that the Australian fritillary species had already been wiped out. 

“I like to be optimistic but every year that goes past without anything showing makes us a little bit more concerned every year,” Dr Lambkin said.

“We have gone for 20 years now without a confirmed sighting.

“We could have pushed it to extinction at this point, but no-one knows.”

‘Butterflies on the Brink’

Dr Lambkin is one of the authors of a new study,, published in Austral Entomology, which has identified the top 26 Australian butterfly species and subspecies at greatest risk of extinction within the next 20 years. 

The Australian fritillary butterfly tops the list.

The study found that, without new conservation action, the Australian fritillary had a 95 per cent likelihood of extinction within 20 years. 

“When you think about the Australian fritillary, you really have to think in terms of the thylacine [a marsupial believed to be extinct],” Dr Lambkin said.

“It stands out as the only butterfly species in Australia where there are no known colonies at the moment.”

Dr Lambkin said there was still the chance of a sighting.

“It would be exhilarating to spot one,” he said.

“After that, we would have the pleasure of forming some sort of recovery project for it, and that would be outstanding.

“It’s only old-timers who have seen it, and many people who have seen it have departed.

“No-one young coming up through the system liking butterflies has ever observed it.”

The Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program’s Threatened Species Recovery Hub coordinated the study, which involved 28 scientists and butterfly experts.

Co-researcher Michael Braby from the Australian National University said it was vital that Australia’s invertebrate biodiversity was conserved. 

“Our ecosystems and ultimately our survival may depend on it,” Dr Braby said.

“Each state and the Northern Territory has butterflies on the list. 

“North-east NSW and adjoining south-east Queensland is also a hotspot, with six imperilled species, including the pale imperial hairstreak, mangrove ant-blue, black-grass dart and bulloak jewel.”

Conservation work needed 

One of the major problems facing the Australian fritillary and other butterfly species is habitat loss, including the draining of swamps for farming and urbanisation. 

“The [Australian fritillary] habitat has been disrupted incredibly,” Dr Lambkin said.

“It prefers low wetland areas and, I’m sorry to say, but us as colonisers have destroyed most of those low wetland areas.”

The study lead author, Hayley Geyle, from Charles Darwin University said identifying species at risk was a crucial first step in preventing extinctions.

At the moment, only six of the 26 butterflies identified are listed for protection under Australian law.

“By raising awareness of these butterflies and the risks they face, we aim to give governments, conservation groups and the community time to act to prevent their extinction,” she said.

“The good news is that while the butterflies we identified are not doing well, for the majority of these species, there is still a very good chance of recovery if there is new targeted conservation effort.”

Citizen scientists urged to be on the lookout

Australians are encouraged to report any possible sightings of the Australian fritillary, which can be recorded with the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.

“These  [Australian fritillary]  butterflies, what we know of them, they are very secretive things,” Dr Lambkin said.

“Most often, you get them in discreet localised colonies.

“If it’s away from the traffic of the world, they could be there, and you wouldn’t know they were there.

“Surveying for them is particularly difficult because they can exist in all sorts of low wetland areas, from Port Macquarie to Gympie.”

Source: Thanks msn.com