, Volume 17, Issue 12, pp 2833-2847
Date: 07 May 2008

Forest butterflies in West Africa have resisted extinction… so far (Lepidoptera: Papilionoidea and Hesperioidea)

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An extended study of the 972 forest butterflies (Lepidoptera: Papilionoidea and Hesperioidea) in Africa west of the Dahomey Gap, covering the period 1990–2006, showed that 97% of all species ever recorded from the area were still present in one or more of the remaining forests within the region. This is despite the fact that during the past 150 or so years the forests have shrunk to 13% or less of their original extent, very little of which in pristine condition. The 34 species not recorded during the study period mainly belong to genera and species-groups that are rare, local, or difficult of access—species that any collector would be lucky to find once in a lifetime. A few may actually be “phantom species” or mislabelled butterflies from other parts of Africa. Effectively it seems that no butterfly has yet gone regionally extinct in West Africa. Two-thirds of the 34 species not recorded between 1990 and 2006 were found elsewhere in Africa. This should be a source of pride and encouragement for all concerned with nature conservation in the region. The long-term survival of fauna and flora is wholly dependent on the continued existence of sufficient broadleaf forest in reasonable condition. It is possible that accumulated “extinction debt” will still lead to loss of species, a process that should be closely monitored. The remaining area of forest of high quality is small, fragile and now contained almost exclusively within the formal protected areas systems: its continued conservation is vital. Many challenges still exist and much hard work remains to consolidate the conservation of West African biodiversity.