Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Threat to a Seemingly Widespread Species: Small Copper Butterfly

When it comes to species under threat, its the specialists that seem to be in the most trouble. Relying on, say, a single rare plant species for food or existing only in a specific microhabitat spells trouble in the extinction stakes. Yet the news is seemingly equally as grim for some widespread species.
Small Copper Butterfly, Lycaena phlaeas
The Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) is a common butterfly of hedgerows and woodland verges in Ireland, although it is also frequently spotted in fields and even gardens. It is considered common throughout Europe, Asia, North America and even north Africa, feeding on Common Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) and other Rumex spp. (1). However a detailed study of numbers in north Wales showed a population level decline of 89%, a level comparable to that of species considered rare and threatened (2). Habitat loss and fragmentation are the causes of the reduction in numbers. This illustrates the difficulty in foreseeing what consequences our further misuse of natural resources will have on a range of species.

  1. Endo et al., 1985. Journal of Insect Physiology 31 pp. 525-532
  2. León-Cortés et al., 2000. Ecological Entomology 25 pp. 285–294

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