Friends with benefits come together

FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS COME TOGETHER TO HELP BUTTERFLY

Thanks to the Friends with Benefits project, over 30 hectares of Purple Copper Butterfly habitat has been rehabilitated after the devastating Black Summer bushfires of 2019/20.

Particular focus was given to removing fire-loving broom and blackberry, as well as the removal of pines that were not killed by the fire to ensure sun continues to shine on the butterfly’s habitat.

Weeds were removed within the high-quality habitat at known sites around Lithgow, and buffer areas were built surrounding those sites to slow down any future weed invasion.

Named for the mutualistic relationship the Purple Copper Butterfly caterpillar has with an ant species, the project is funded by the Federal Government through its Bushfire Wildlife and Habitat Recovery Programme, delivered by Central Tablelands Local Land Services and Lithgow and Oberon Landcare, in partnership with the NSW Saving our Species Program and Lithgow City Council.

Central Tablelands Land Services Officer Evelyn Nicholson said the project had exceeded expectations and will hopefully deliver a positive outcome this flying season.

“Our goal was to rehabilitate 19 hectares of land so to have achieved this and more is a wonderful step forward in helping this threatened species recover from the impacts of a horrific bushfire season” Ms Nicholson said.

“After fire, weeds often proliferate as they respond quickly to bare ground following the disturbance, and in the project locations, weeds were competing with the native blackthorn for resources and space, shading out habitat, making it unsuitable for the sun-loving butterflies.

“Even though the initial weed control period has drawn to a close, follow-up weed control will continue to ensure longer-term protection of precious habitat.”

The tiny species of butterfly has very specific habitat requirements and is found only in the Lithgow, Bathurst and Oberon areas above approximately 850 metres in altitude within patches of a subspecies of native blackthorn and where an attendant ant species co-occurs.

Caterpillars feed exclusively on blackthorn leaves and when feeding are protected from predators, such as huntsmen spiders and wasps, by the ants who, in return for protection consume a sugary sap that the caterpillar extrudes from a gland on its back.

Trish Kidd from Lithgow and Oberon Landcare, said that the project was a great example of people coming together to protect native species.

“Like the relationship between the caterpillar and the ant, Friends with Benefits has had tremendous success because we all worked together as a team to deliver a positive outcome” said Ms Kidd.

“We’re hoping that once lockdown restrictions ease and members of the community will be able to join us in upcoming monitoring activities over spring and summer.”

For more information about the Purple Copper Butterfly project, please contact Evelyn Nicholson on evelyn.nicholson@lls.nsw.gov.au or on 0427 637 907.

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