London: Nearly a fifth of Europe's wood-dependent beetles are at the risk of extinction due to the ongoing decline in large veteran trees, conservationists have warned.
Saproxylic beetles depend on dead and decaying wood for at least part of their life-cycle and are involved in decomposition processes and the recycling of nutrients in natural ecosystems.
They also provide an important food source for birds and mammals, and some species are even involved in pollination.
The new European Red List of Saproxylic Beetles by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) assessed the conservation status of almost 700 species of saproxylic beetles.
"The IUCN Red List gives us key intelligence for understanding the status of saproxylic beetles and highlighting conservation priorities to ensure their long-term survival," said Jane Smart, Director, IUCN Global Species Programme.
"Some beetle species require old trees that need hundreds of years to grow, so conservation efforts need to focus on long-term strategies to protect old trees across different landscapes in Europe, to ensure that the vital ecosystem services provided by these beetles continue," said Smart.
Due to their dependence on dead or decaying wood, the loss of trees across Europe is the main driver of decline in saproxylic beetle populations, according to the report.
Loss of ancient and veteran trees, tree age structure gaps, degraded landscapes that are unfriendly to tree growth, and indiscriminate felling for spurious health and safety reasons all contribute to the loss and degradation of suitable saproxylic beetle habitat.
Stictoleptura erythroptera, for example, needs large veteran trees with cavities and is therefore dependent on the preservation of old trees.
This species was assessed as Vulnerable, and its main threat is the continuing loss of old trees across its range.
Other major threats identified include urbanization, tourist development, and an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires in the Mediterranean region, according to the report.
Iphthiminus italicus, for example, has been assessed as Endangered due to large-scale silvicultural activities and an increasing frequency of wildfires.
The report also highlights that there is a lack of data for many species.
However, some progress has been made in the forestry sector, and the importance of deadwood is being increasingly acknowledged in many countries, the report said.
"The amount of dead wood in European forests has steadily increased in recent years also due to the integration of the requirements of EU nature and biodiversity policy into forest management plans," said Humberto Delgado Rosa, Director for Natural Capital, DG Environment, European Commission.
"This is having a positive impact on saproxylic beetle populations and demonstrates that the adequate mainstreaming and implementation of the EU environmental policies brings results," said Rosa.