Conserving our lepidopteran heritage

Verloren Valei illustrates how important a role protected areas play in conserving our biodiversity.

By Justin Bode

Orachrysops warreni, Lost Valley Blue or Donkerblou Bloutjie (Photograph: Justin Bode)

Lepidoptera are recognised as playing an important role in ecological systems, and also act as biodiversity indicators. For these reasons, the Southern African Lepidoptera Conservation Assessment (SALCA) was initiated to carry out conservation assessments for all 800 butterfly taxa recorded in South Africa at the time of publication in 2020.

SALCA was a collaborative venture between the Lepidopterists’ Society of Africa (LepSoc Africa), the Brenton Blue Trust and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). It formed part of the National Biodiversity Assessment (NBA).

The SALCA tool, a custom-designed interactive distribution database, enabled high-quality data to be collected to enable the production of accurate conservation assessments in accordance with IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) methodology.

The Red Lists of SALCA and SABCA facilitated the first opportunity to calculate the Red List Index for South African butterflies during the period between 2012 and 2018. Other metrics required for the NBA included protection level and threat analyses. A further outcome was the critical habitat mapping for butterflies, which formed part of a screening tool implemented by SANBI, aimed at ensuring that changes in land use did not cause any further loss of butterfly biodiversity.

A comprehensive distribution database was also developed for South African moths, enabling data to be analysed so that potentially threatened moth species could be shortlisted for further investigation.

SALCA highlights geographical hotspots and ecosystems (vegetation types) containing butterflies of conservation concern. It also identifies the societal, economic and human wellbeing benefits of conserving Lepidoptera. LepSoc Africa’s responses to the increasing pressures on South African Lepidoptera biodiversity are also reported on and discussed. SABCA and SALCA are benchmarked against a well-known European butterfly atlasing and conservation assessment project.

In total, 165 SALCA Red Lists species were assessed accordance with IUCN methodology.

Serradinga clarki amissivallis, Bronze-speckled Widow or Verlorenvallei Bergweduwee (Photograph: Justin Bode)

Two Verlorenvalei endemics feature on the list. Orachrysops warreni, Lost Valley Blue (formerly Warren’s Blue) or Donkerblou Bloutjie, is listed as Least Concern – Extremely Rare and Serradinga clarki amissivallis, Bronze-speckled Widow or Verlorenvallei Bergweduwee, is listed as Vulnerable. The difference in the two listings is mainly due to the Widow being associated with the grasslands alongside wetlands and the threat that wetlands in general face.

The importance of Verloren Valei from a conservation point of view is demonstrated by the fact that both species’ threat levels are lower than what they would have been had they not occurred in this protected area. However it is noted that both species need further research in their distribution, life history and ecology.

Read more about Lost Valley Blue and Bronze-speckled Widow.

Read the assessment reports for the Lost Valley Blue and Bronze-Speckled Widow.

Read the Red List.

Sources

Mecenero, S., Edge, D.A., Staude, H.S., Coetzer, B.H., Coetzer, A.J., Raimondo, D.C., Williams, M.C., Armstrong, A.J., Ball, J.B., Bode, J.D., Cockburn, K.N.A., Dobson, C.M., Dobson, J.C.H., Henning, G.A., Morton, A.S., Pringle, E.L., Rautenbach, F., Selb, H.E.T., Van Der Colff, D. & Woodhall, S.E., 2020. Outcomes of the Southern African Lepidoptera Conservation Assessment (SALCA). Metamorphosis 31(4): 1‒160.

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