All Islanders will know that Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled to St Helena in 1815, but few will know about the jumping spider Paraheliophanus Napoleon (Napoleon Jumping Spider), named after him, that is unique to the Island. Now, almost 200 years after the Emperor’s arrival on the Island, conservation staff have declared his namesake ‘Critically Endangered’ under the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species™ (IUCN Red List) guidelines.
The ‘Bugs on the Brink’ project, funded by the UK Government’s Darwin Initiative and supported by Buglife UK, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology UK, St Helena National Trust and St Helena Government, began in February 2013 with its aim to assemble knowledge of the Island’s land-based invertebrates to help protect these overlooked species.
One way of highlighting the plight of the endemic invertebrates, and a key part of the project to help focus conservation efforts, is to categorise the invertebrates under the IUCN Red List guidelines. This uses all the data available on the species, such as the ecology and life cycle of the species, the location and area of its distribution, population size, past or future decline, habitat quality and extinction risk to classify it into one of the threat level categories. These threat levels range from ‘Extinct’ to ‘Least Concern’ and include the three main threatened categories of ‘Critically Endangered’, ‘Endangered’ and ‘Vulnerable’.
Once the threat level is known, species on the brink of extinction can be prioritised for conservation action. This may involve habitat restoration and expansion, species relocation to a better habitat or captive breeding programmes to reintroduce species into newly restored habitats.
The Napoleon Jumping Spider, which has only ever been found from four distinct sites around the Island associated with endemic Scrubwood (Commidendrum rugosum, itself of Vulnerable status), is one of 14 species from St Helena recently added to the IUCN Red List database along with two others that have had their threat level re-assessed. Sadly, the re-assessment of St Helena’s Giant Earwig (Labidura herculeana), the world’s largest earwig, has declared it officially extinct.
Work is now under way to Red List the remaining 400 endemic invertebrate species on the Island to help prioritise on-going conservation efforts in habitat restoration and species protection.
11 November 2014