18 May 2007 | Story by Helen Swingler

Pretty pollinator: Mountain Pride (Aeropetes tulbaghia) butterfly (Photo Steve Woodhall.)

First up were the birds, then frogs and reptiles and now butterflies.

Over the next four years ecologists, lepidopterists - and Joe Public - will map the distribution and conservation priorities of the country's rich butterfly fauna.

The project was launched under the umbrella of the Southern African Butterfly Conservation Assessment (SABCA).

Co-ordinators of the project, the Avian Demography Unit (ADU), are old hands at running atlas projects like these. With bird and frog atlases wrapped up, the unit is currently running the Southern African Reptile Conservation Assessment.

For the butterfly atlas, the ADU will join forces with the South African National Biodiversity Institute and the Lepidopterists' Society of Africa.

South Africa is home to 17% of Africa's 4 000 butterfly species (that's 671 species for us) and of these, two species have become extinct. Another 38 species are named in the Red Data List.

Butterflies are more than pretty faces. They provide an excellent indicator of overall ecosystem health. And many are specialists at what they do.

The Mountain Pride butterfly is the only known pollinator of several plants with red flowers; including the Pride of Table Mountain orchid (Disa uniflora).

The project co-ordinator is the ADU's Silvia Mecenero.

'It's a great privilege for UCT to be selected by government to host this project. It has huge national biodiversity and conservation science significance.'

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