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Richmond birdwing butterfly project

Richmond birdwing butterfly project

For decades, ‘home’ for the Richmond birdwing butterfly has been shrinking, the abundance of the vine it relies on, Pararistolochia praevenos, lost to urban development, rainforest clearing, inappropriate fire regimes, weed invasion and farming.

The largest butterfly species in sub-tropical eastern Australia is now listed, under the Nature Conservation Act 1992, as being vulnerable in Queensland.

Natural populations of birdwing butterfly vines in the Greater Brisbane area have been lost and permanent populations of the Richmond birdwing no longer occur there.

The result has seen butterfly populations geographically restricted and isolated. Adult female birdwings do not travel more than 30km from breeding sites. Genetic inbreeding — resulting in lower fertility, poor survival rates of larvae and pupae, and poorer health of surviving adults —has seen isolated populations become extinct in 2 south-east Queensland locations.

While local conservation groups, government authorities, catchment management groups and the general community work to re-establish corridors of suitable habitat, creating ‘stepping stone’ clusters of host vines to connect remaining habitats, that takes time to grow.

Since 2010, the Queensland Government Department of Environment and Science has been involved in genetic manipulation to prevent additional inbreeding and loss of local populations in the short-term. Adult birdwings of different genetic stock, from distances beyond the females’ reach, are selectively mated in captive facilities. The progeny are then reared and released to the wild at sites where numbers have dwindled or where local extinction has already occurred.

This initiative should increase both the number and genetic vigour of breeding populations of birdwings across the species’ former distribution and, combined with efforts to address landscape-scale threats, bring about their recovery.

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