The Richmond Birdwing Conservation Network (RBCN) is an affiliation of individuals, groups and organisations dedicated to the conservation of the Richmond birdwing butterfly (Ornithoptera richmondia) and its host plants, the Richmond birdwing vine (Pararistolochia praevenosa) and mountain aristolochia (P. laheyana). The RBCN strives to achieve this aim through establishing vine refuges, as well as creating awareness and support for conservation in the broader community.
The Network partners with other like-minded organisations and provides members with science-based information to cultivate and care for birdwing vines.
RBCN in Action
Latest News and Information
Our significant projects include:
- Recovering the Richmond Birdwing Butterfly – Coordinated Corridors Project
- The RBCN will conduct detailed desktop mapping of Richmond birdwing habitat (water courses / vegetation / regional ecosystems), future urban development areas and known vine populations will be linked together to identify potential key corridor locations across South East Queensland. These key locations will then be ground-truthed for mapping accuracy and suitability as vine planting locations. Armed with this combined information, a key map resource will be developed to visually identify the coordinated corridors and direct plans for future vine plantings, facilitating the best possible outcome for the recovery of the butterfly. The support for this critical project has been provided by the Norman Wettenhall Foundation. The Norman Wettenhall Foundation supports biodiversity conservation projects Australia-wide and the RBCN are indebted for the foundations support with this project.
- Mapping the spread of Dutchman’s pipe vine (Aristolochia elegans) within the natural range of the Richmond birdwing butterfly.
- The project aim is to identify the distribution of Dutchman’s pipe vine (Aristolochia elegans) in south east Queensland with the aim of producing a targeted eradication plan based on prioritising the removal of infestations which put populations of the Richmond birdwing butterfly at greatest risk. This continued spread of the poisonous South American dutchman’s pipe vine (Aristolochia elegans) across South East Queensland is a major factor contributing to the decline of the Richmond Birdwing Butterfly population. This invasive weed is lethal to the caterpillar life cycle stage due to toxins in the leaves. The vine attracts female butterflies which lay eggs on the leaves, mistaking the poisonous plant for the host specific Richmond Birdwing Butterfly Vine (Pararistolochia praevenosa). Large numbers of Richmond birdwing caterpillars die each breeding season because of this poisonous introduced plant.
- Modelling the current and future range of the Richmond birdwing butterfly under climate change.
- The RBCN will use the species distribution modelling (SDM) decision support toll MaxEnt (Phillips et al., 2006) to develop a model to spatially predict areas of higher and lower probability for the Richmond birdwing butterfly. This model will then be projected onto future climate scenarios to show where the butterfly has the highest probability of occurring as the climate continues to change.
Both the ‘Mapping the spread of Dutchman’s pipe vine’ and ‘Modelling the current and future range of the Richmond birdwing butterfly under climate change’ projects have been funded by proceeds of a fundraising event run by the Australasian Society of Zoo Keeping (ASZK). Approximately 25 zoos and wildlife parks across Australia and New Zealand participated in ‘Bowling for Birdwings 2015’ as part of the ASZK’s annual fundraiser. The proceeds were donate to the RBCN to fund the recovery of the butterfly species.
If you would like to participate in these projects, please register your interest at
The WPSQ ‘1000 Vines Project’: starting corridors for restoring birdwing populations
Dr Don Sands (27 February 2015)
Inbreeding depression in the Richmond birdwing and several other Australian butterflies was first demonstrated by Albert Orr using captive-rearing experiments (Orr 1994). Albert’s experiments helped explain why isolated populations disappeared after several years of apparently healthy breeding by birdwings, in places where extirpations could not be attributed to the shortage or quality of food plant vines. Recently, evidence has been obtained that this inbreeding problem may be overcome by releasing stocks of outcrossed (‘genetically invigorated’) immature birdwing stages into habitat fragments (Gynther, Seal & Sands, pers. obs.). While this approach may be successful at the selected locations in the shorter term, over the longer term habitat corridors to link breeding colonies will be needed to encourage natural movement of birdwings, to enable healthy genetic mixing between colonies and so prevent inbreeding depression.
A ‘corridor concept’ to overcome inbreeding in the Richmond birdwing began in August 2005 when Brisbane Koala Bushland’s Community Group, in partnership with what was then the Richmond Birdwing Recovery Network, planted 30 birdwing butterfly vines (Pararistolochia praevenosa) along Tingalpa and Buhot Creeks. The concept included plans for a corridor to link Neville Lawrie Reserve, Daisy Hill State Forest and Venman’s Bushland National Park across boundaries of Brisbane and Redland City Councils (see The Regenerator, Brisbane City Council, Summer 2005-6, p. 14). A basic network of corridors proposed by Sands and New (2013) was based on the historic distribution of the birdwing from Maryborough, Queensland to Grafton in New South Wales and west to the Great Dividing Range at Toowoomba. By adding the coastline, this distribution is enclosed by a sub-rectangular area ‘framing’ patches of habitat near the coast and on the lower ranges. The design of a ‘Coordinated Corridors’ plan, aims to connect existing lowland birdwing breeding habitats and excludes temporary mountain birdwing habitats with the food plant P. laheyana, localities where this vine fails to sustain breeding populations.
In November 2013, Simon Baltais, then President of WPSQ, sent out a letter of appeal for donations to purchase 1000 high-quality birdwing butterfly vines for planting at specially chosen locations in corridors where they could be carefully maintained and the food plant numbers would be sufficient to contribute to the recovery of birdwing populations. The response exceeded all expectations and the funds donated provided an opportunity to initiate the Coordinated Corridors plan via WPSQs ‘1000 Vines Project’. Sites initially chosen included Burleigh-Tallebudgera Creek as the southern corridor, Foam Bark Gully, Fig Tree Pocket as the central corridor for Brisbane, Witta Nature Reserve at Maleny, and Pomona-Boreen Point as the northern corridor. Prolonged drought delayed plans for completing the timetable for planting in 2014 but approval was obtained from WPSQ to extend the project and complete planting in early 2015. The planting of 200 vines at Witta has been held over until easier access is available and plant surveys can be undertaken. Detailed site profiles are being prepared as valuable records and use in planning further supplementary corridors, as well as the future preparation of a revised recovery plan.
Vines were planted in each Corridor, while Supplementary sites were added to the original plan as opportunities and available vines allowed. By March 2015, 1180 vines were planted at selected sites as follows:
Pomona-Boreen Point Corridor
- Cootharaba. Nof-Dangerbridge Nature Refuge. 30 vines planted.
- Wahpunga Park, Kin Kin. Noosa Council Reserve. 25 vines planted.
- Keys Creek-Overton Way, Kin Kin. Noosa Council Reserve: (a) 12 vines planted, (b) 13 vines planted.
- Cooroora Creek Park, Hill St, Pomona. Noosa Council Reserve. 10 vines planted.
- Peregian College, Old Emu Mountain Rd, Weyba Downs, school grounds. 10 vines planted.
- Lower Mill, Marara St, Cooroy. Noosa Council Reserve. 35 vines planted.
- Cudgerie Estate Cooroy, Blueberry Court. Two private properties, 200 m. apart. 25 vines planted.
- Boreen Point. 40 vines planted.
David Fleay Wildlife Park, West Burleigh. Queensland Parks & Wildlife Service.
- 150 vines planted.
- 50 additional vines planted March 2015.
Foambark Gully Richmond Birdwing Corridor, Fig Tree Pocket.
Three private properties, south of Fig Tree Pocket Rd. Partnerships & collaboration: Fflur Collyer, Land for Wildlife (BCC).
- 250 vines planted.
- 30 additional vines planted by Conservation Volunteers Australia.
Burleigh Heads National Park, Flagship Site. Queensland Parks & Wildlife Service.
- 115 vines planted.
- 85 additional vines planted in March 2015.
- Crohamhurst Corridor. Department of Environment & Heritage Protection Conservation Reserve – 100 vines planted.
- Indooroopilly Mine, Flagship Site. University of Queensland. (75 vines previously planted) – 50 vines planted.
- Obi Obi Creek Corridor, Maleny. Green Hills Inc. (a) ‘Cag’ site – 20 vines planted, (b) ‘Jardum’ site – 30 vines planted.
- 610 Mt Cotton Road & Avalon Road, Mt Cotton. Department of Environment & Heritage Protection properties – 75 vines planted and an additional 25 vines planted March 2015.
Orr AG (1994) Inbreeding depression in Australian butterflies: Some implications for conservation. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 36: 179-184
Sands DPA and New TR (2013). Conservation of the Richmond Birdwing Butterfly in Australia. Springer Dondrecht
Acknowledgements. For the range of activities including fundraising and assistance with planting, I thank Sam Morris, Des Boyland, Niki & Vernon Hill, Sylvia Alexander & Ian Yeo, Cherrell Hirst, Fflur Collyer, Phillip Moran and members of Noosa & District Landcare, Mark Pattenaude, Jacqui Seal, Paul Grimshaw, Cat Shaw, Peter Maddering, Paul Scott, Josh Hansen, Gary Einam, Kathleen Doody, Brent Smith, Dave Harper, Julia Blumhardt and anonymous donors.
Community workshops and field days
- Restoring Richmond birdwing habitats
- Supporting scientific research
- Hands-on school projects
- Creating flagship corridors by planting vines
- Educational publications
- Removing Dutchman’s pipe vines
Several sites and wildlife corridors have been identified in south-eastern Queensland that are vitally important to the survival of the Richmond birdwing vine and butterfly. These sites are in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, western suburbs of Brisbane and Currumbin area of the Gold Coast. Sites in northern NSW have yet to be determined.
Areas will be cleared of weeds, sometimes with the assistance of Conservation Volunteers Australia (CVA), and groups of up to 30 vines will be planted and maintained at each site.
Captive Rearing and Release Project
The Network is partnering with the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection to carry out experimental field trials to overcome in-breeding depression. Critical breeding work as part of this project is being carried out at David Fleay Wildlife Park. Successful first releases have been made in the Cootharaba area, and two other experimental sites are now active. Future monitoring is needed to determine if butterfly populations become established at these sites.
- Pyper, W. (2001). Changing habitat. Ecos 106: 22-25
- Pyper, W. (2002). Butterfly effect: rethinking butterfly conservation. Wildlife Australia Magazine 39(4): 14-17.
- Sands, D. (1996). Birdwing blues. Wildlife Australia Magazine 33(1): 7-9.
- Sands, D.P.A. and Scott, S. (eds) (2002). Conservation of Birdwing Butterflies. SciComEd Pty Ltd, Marsden, Qld.
- Sands, D. (2008). Conserving the Richmond Birdwing Butterfly over two decades: Where to next? Ecological Management & Restoration 9(1): 4-16
Information and Resources
- Richmond Birdwing Butterfly Species Profile
- Richmond Birdwing Butterfly – DEHP species profile
- ‘Birdwings’ New Home’ – Children’s book by Lynette Reilly and Lois Hughes
For more information on WPSQ’s other projects, email or phone +61 (7) 3844 0129.