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Conservation and Project News

 

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South African Butterfly

Conservation Assessment (SABCA)

          



SABCA Team visit  Umtamvuna Nature Reserve -  December 2007


From left to right: Alan Heath, Steve Woodhall, Rob Wolter (Conservation Manager UNR) Richard Dobson, Nita Dobson. Photograph by: Ada Kaliszewska

A visit by a SABCA team comprising of Alan Heath, Steve Woodhall, Ada Kaliszewska, Richard Dobson and Nita Dobson to the Umtamvuna Nature Reserve took place in early December 2007. Field surveys in the UNR will be commencing in 2008. The area is rich in butterfly fauna and much work needs to be done.

Ada Kaliszewska and Alan Heath searching for Chrysoritis and Thestor Butterflies




SABCA

PRESS RELEASE MAY 2007

For the launch of the


SOUTHERN AFRICAN BUTTERFLY CONSERVATION ASSESSMENT (SABCA)


Pretoria, 14 May 2007

 

Butterfly conservation gets wings

 

A four-year conservation project aimed at determining the distribution and conservation priorities of all butterfly species in the South African region, especially those threatened with extinction, was launched on 14 May 2007 at the Pretoria Botanical Gardens. “South Africa has a unique and wealthy butterfly fauna,” says Hermann Staude, President of the Lepidopterists' Society of Africa. “But of our 671 known butterfly species, two and possibly three species have become extinct! A further 38 species are listed in the Red Data List, meaning they are threatened with extinction in the near future.” The Project Coordinator for the Southern African Butterfly Conservation Assessment (SABCA), Silvia Mecenero, adds: “Unless South Africa pays careful attention to the conservation of our butterflies now, we could lose many more of these fascinating creatures as well as the important services they provide to our ecosystems.” “SABCA will help us to fill in the many gaps in our knowledge of butterflies and their threats. With this information we can make sure that we implement the correct conservation actions to prevent more extinctions,” says SANBI Threatened Species Programme Manager, Wendy Foden Because butterflies tend to rely on particular host plant species for food, they are particularly vulnerable to the transformation of natural lands. The destruction of natural vegetation for agriculture, urbanization and infrastructure is the main cause of butterfly declines and extinctions. Butterflies are also known to be particularly sensitive to climatic changes as a result of global warming. Three leading institutions have created a significant partnership to implement SABCA, namely the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), the Lepidopterists' Society of Africa (LepSoc) and the University of Cape Town's Avian Demography Unit (ADU). Nature conservation authorities, universities, museums, amateur lepidopterists and members of the public have been part of the planning and strategizing that have brought SABCA into being. SABCA aims to train and educate previously disadvantaged groups to promote butterfly conservation. The public will also have opportunities to participate in this important project. The project is co-funded by the Norwegian Ministry for the Environment and SANBI through their Environment Cooperation Programme. SANBI is a statutory body under the Department of Environmental that have brought SABCA into being. SABCA aims to train and educate previously disadvantaged groups to promote butterfly conservation. The public will also have opportunities to participate in this important project. The project is co-funded by the Norwegian Ministry for the Environment and SANBI through their Environment Cooperation Programme. SANBI is a statutory body under the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and is responsible for fulfilling the new Biodiversity Act mandate to monitor and report on the state of South Africa's threatened biodiversity. SABCA is the first major project on insects to be undertaken by SANBI. SABCA is coordinated by the ADU, which is experienced in running atlas projects, having successfully coordinated the bird and frog atlas projects. The ADU is also coordinating the Southern African Reptile Conservation Assessment (SARCA). LepSoc is an amateur society that was formed 24 years ago to encourage the study and conservation of butterflies and moths in Africa. LepSoc will be responsible for the collection of butterflies in the field, as well as providing expertise in identification of butterflies. LepSoc has already been involved in the proclamation of at least four conservation areas for specific butterfly species, including for the Critically Endangered Brenton Blue butterfly. Butterflies are one of the most diverse groups of insects, and play an important ecological role by pollinating flowering plants. In South Africa, the Mountain Pride Butterfly is known to be the only pollinator of several red flowering plants, such as the charismatic red “Pride of Table Mountain” Orchid (Disa uniflora). Butterflies in the Lycaenid family in South Africa are mostly endemic and do not occur anywhere else in the world. South Africa has one of the highest proportions of Lycaenid butterflies (48%) for any region in the world. Of the 38 threatened butterfly species included in the proposed Red Data Book, about 90% are Lycaenids. These butterflies have life cycles that are closely linked with specific plant and ant species and many only occur in very small, confined areas.

 

How can the public get involved in SABCA?

 

Previous atlas projects for birds, frogs and reptiles, show that the public can play an extremely useful role in species conservation. Anyone can become involved in SABCA in any of three ways:

1) SABCA urges members of the public to take digital photographs of the butterflies (at any of their life stages i.e. caterpillars, pupae or as adult butterflies) they see in gardens, on holiday and those killed on the roads. Together with the details of where they were taken, these photographs can be submitted to the :

Project's website “Virtual Museum”. Records that are of good quality will be entered into a butterfly database and will be available for use as an educational resource to all.

2) Volunteers can join the SABCA team on field trips into previously poorly studied areas to collect butterflies and information about the butterfly habits and habitats.

3) People with private butterfly collections are encouraged allow the project's data capturers to identify and record the species in the collections and the areas and dates of collection. For more information on SABCA and on how to participate, visit the project website: http://butterflies.adu.org.za.

 

NOTES FOR EDITORS

 

Where will SABCA operate?

 

SABCA aims to determine the distribution of all butterfly species in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland thereby providing information for the conservation of this group of insects, especially those that are endangered.

 

What is a conservation assessment?

 

A conservation assessment describes the likelihood of a species becoming extinct, and is the basis for Red Data lists. Species listed as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable (collectively referred to as "Threatened” species) are those that are assessed as having a high risk of extinction in the near future. Conservation assessments highlight species and areas of significant conservation importance, providing baseline information that is needed for conservation planning.

 

What is a conservation assessment?

 

A conservation assessment describes the likelihood of a species becoming extinct, and is the basis for Red Data lists. Species listed as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable (collectively referred to as "Threatened” species) are those that are assessed as having a high risk of extinction in the near future. Conservation assessments highlight species and areas of significant conservation importance, providing baseline information that is needed for conservation planning. The first butterfly Red Data book was published in 1989. This book is currently being updated by a group of biologists who helped to found SABCA. However, large gaps still exist in our knowledge of butterflies, and these must be filled SABCA, so that the appropriate conservation management actions can be taken for the threatened species.

 

Butterfly facts and figures

 

· Butterflies are insects, which make up the most species-rich group of animals on the planet.

 

· There are about 4000 butterfly species in Africa. South Africa provides a home for almost 17% of that

total.

 

· South Africa has a total of 671 butterfly species in five families. Thirty-eight of these species are listed in the Red Data book, i.e. are threatened with extinction. Another two species have already become extinct.

 

· Butterflies are the only insects well served by guide books.

 

Butterflies in our ecosystems

 

· The presence and composition of butterfly communities is an excellent indicator of overall ecosystem health.

 

· One of the most important roles of butterflies is the pollination of flowering plants. For example, the Mountain Pride butterfly is the only known pollinator of several plants with red flowers, including the charismatic red “Pride of Table Mountain” orchid (Disa uniflora).

 

· Butterflies are easy to see and generally easy to identify with a little effort.

 

· Butterflies add to the tourism potential of South Africa.

 

· Butterflies are wonderful tools for education.

 

· Habitat destruction is the primary reason that some butterfly populations in South Africa are declining.

 

A special butterfly group: the Lycaenidae

 

· South African butterflies in the family Lycaenidae are mainly only found in South Africa and in no other country (i.e. are endemics).

 

· About 7% of the butterfly species in this group are threatened with extinction and are listed in the butterfly Red Data book.

 

· Lycaenids mainly occur in very small and limited areas because they are usually associated with specific host plants and host ants to complete their life cycle. Because of these characteristics, Lycaenids are easily threatened by habitat destruction.

 

· Rapid land development in the Western Cape causes particular concern because of the approximate 236 butterfly species occurring in the province, more than half are Lycaenids.

 

· The Brenton Blue butterfly in the Western Cape: This Lycaenid is Critically Endangered. It's conservation status is being researched by Dave Edge, a member of LepSoc. There are only 100 individuals of this 

butterfly within the Brenton Blue Butterfly Reserve. The population is in decline, which may be linked to weather conditions. Active management within the reserve is still necessary to maintain the butterfly's food plant. Attempts to reintroduce the butterfly to a site in Nature's Valley have not been successful. Although the site has been rehabilitated to provide the butterfly's food plant, the host ant is absent, which may be the reason that a butterfly population has not yet become established. The priority is now to establish the host ant at the site and to increase the food plant.

 

· The Winelands Blue and the Coega Copper butterflies at Coega in the Eastern Cape, a large area zoned for industrial development: Both of these Lycaenids are Threatened, because they are extremely localised in their distribution and because they use ants to protect their larvae during their life cycles. Ernest Pringle of LepSoc is involved with the conservation of these butterflies at Coega. The Winelands Blue butterfly larvae feed for a short time on the host plant, then they are taken underground by Campnotus ants. Once underground, the butterfly larvae become carnivorous and feed on the larvae and pupae of the ants. The Coega Copper female butterfly lays eggs in loose sand close to nests of  Lepisiota ants. The life history of this butterfly is difficult to track because of their secretive behaviour. Four areas have been and will be cordoned off from development at Coega, one to create a reserve for the Winelands Blue, and the other three for the Coega Copper. All these areas are being closely monitored and the exotic invasive plants have been removed by the Coega Development Corporation underground, the butterfly larvae become carnivorous and feed on the larvae and pupae of the ants. The Coega Copper female butterfly lays eggs in loose sand close to nests of Lepisiota ants. The life history of this butterfly is difficult to track because of their secretive behaviour. Four areas have been and will be cordoned off from development at Coega, one to create a reserve for the Winelands Blue, and the other three for the Coega Copper. All these areas are being closely monitored and the exotic invasive plants have been removed by the Coega Development Corporation


Impenjati Butterflies are proud to be associated with the SABCA project


The Amakosa Rocksitter
spp (Durbania amakosa albescens)


This sub-species of the Amakosa Rocksitter was discovered near the town of Margate on the Kwa-Zulu Natal south coast. And was described by Mr Graham Henning of the Lepidopterists Society of Africa. This butterfly differs from the nominate race of Durbania Amakosa, in that it has a more pronounced, whitish irroration on the apex of the upperside of the forewing, as well as on the underside of the hindwing. Also the cilia of both the male and female display broader area's of white, The upperside discal spots of the male are more yellowish.


Durbania amakosa albescens - Male Durbania amakosa albescens - Female

This butterfly is on the wing from December to January, and only three small colonies of this sub-species have ever been found. This is an intriguing small butterfly, which can be very easliy overlooked unless it is being specifically searched for. The rocksitter is very reluctant to fly even when approached, and will remain immobile for long periods. When they settle on a rock they have they habit of walking backwards towards the ground. The underside of the butterfly resembles the background, thus giving it perfect camouflage.



Durbania amakosa albescens - Female underside

The female butterfly lays her eggs on lichen covered rocks. The lichen is also the host on which the caterpillars feed on. The caterpillars also pupate in cracks and crevices on the side of the rocks, usually a little way above the level of the soil. They are more often than not concealed behind grass, growing around the rocks. The whole life-cycle of the Amakosa Rocksitter occurs on the lichen covered rocks, the butterfly only flying off when it is searching for a mate. It is sad to note that the survival of this sub-species is under threat, due to housing development projects.



Durbania amakosa albescens - Larvae Durbania amakosa albescens - Pupae



Butterfly Fauna of the Mpenjati Nature Reserve

A survey of butterflies of the Mpenjati Nature Reserve, took place from the 1st of October, 2003 to the 30th of September, 2004. The objective here, was to obtain initial data on the composition of the butterfly fauna, and to elaborate the first ever checklist for the reserve. (Click on the button for the full report, which is in PDF format).


Photograph of the Mpenjati Nature Reserve - Palm Beach - KwaZulu Natal


Mpenjati Nature Reserve Report



Invasive Alien Invader Plants

With the introduction of ; "Invasive Alien Invader Plants", which have either been introduced deliberately or accidently, have now become the prefered host plants for several species of butterflies. These alien invaders are capable of invading stable natural vegetation. They are on the increase and have caused irreversable changes to natural plant cover in some area's. These plants are also aggressive growers, the seeds can also lie dormant for up to 50 years. Survival of a butterfly species depends on the success of the habitat meeting the species unique requirements. These requirements include an adequate food supply for the larvae, as well as; "Nectar" plants, for the adult butterflies to feed on. Indiscriminate removal of these aliens from an area could also lead to the extinction of that particular butterfly colony, due to the fact that no thought is given to replace these plants with a suitable alternative. Studies are currently being conducted by using butterflies as a means of controlling these alien plants, natutally.

Catopsilia florella - Female on host plant  "Peanut Butter Cassia", (Senna didymobotrya).

An example of this is the; "African Migrant", (Catopsilia florella), which now has a preference for the "Peanut Butter Cassia", (Senna didymobotrya). Which the butterfly uses as a food plant for it's larvae to feed on.


Catopsilia florella - Male

 This butterfly can be found on the wing throughout the year. The eggs are laid singly on its host plant. The eggs are long and tapered, and can be easily seen on the leaves of the host plant. This species of butterfly can be found throughout southern africa, and it is also a very common insect.