Biodiversity: Key European butterfly species in decline

Dusky large blue butterflies are in decline. The species has a remarkable life cycle, living underground in ants' nests for most of the year. It breeds in wet meadows where its initial caterpillar food-plant, Great Burnet is abundant. After a short period of feeding in the flower buds, the caterpillars are carried underground to live the rest of their lives in the nests of red ants. Meadows need to be cut every 1-3 years, or lightly grazed, leaving some patches of taller vegetation that support the ants nests. Intensive cutting or heavy grazing can eliminate populations. PHOTO COURTESY JOSEF SETTELE.

Some species have declined by 70 percent; good habitat management could stem the loss

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — European butterfly populations and diversity are rapidly dwindling, as habitat is converted or lost to development. Biologists estimate that about 10 percent of all species are now threatened with extinction, with a European grassland indicator showing that overall abundance  of 17 characteristic butterflies has declined by more than 70 percent in just the last 15 years.

Butterflies are sensitive indicators of the environment and populations respond very quickly to habitat change. Management for butterflies will help ensure the survival of a wide range of other insects, which form the bedrock of European biodiversity.

After a major collaborative research effort, European scientists say that downward spiral could be slowed significantly with good management of the habitat that’s left. Many agricultural areas have been abandoned are are overgrown with brush, while others are too managed too extensively, the scientists said in a new report published in the form of an “applied Conservation paper in the newly launched open-access journal Nature Conservation.

The new publication is a pivotal step for better habitat management, offering guidelines to help ensure that European habitats are managed in a sustainable way that helps the survival of humans as well as wildlife. It includes detailed accounts of each species, their habitat requirements and food-plants, as well as a list of dos and don’ts in the management of their habitats.

“Managing habitats in the correct way is the single most important issue affecting the survival of European butterflies. This is the first time that practical information has been brought together to address the issue. We hope the advice will be taken up urgently across Europe to help save these beautiful species from extinction,” said lead author Chris van Swaay, of Dutch Butterfly Conservation.

“Biodiversity loss is one of the most important topics facing the future of our planet,” said Klaus Henle, who established the new journal in collaboration with Pensoft Publishers. “Our new open-access journal Nature Conservation is intended to make scientific information freely available to help conserve nature and create a healthy world for everyone. The journal aims particularly at facilitating better interaction between scientists and practitioners and its major goal is to support synergistic interactions among scientists, policy-makers, and managers.”



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