From: David A Gabel, ENN
Published December 13, 2010 10:05 AM

The Fall of the European Butterfly

Butterflies are one of the few insects on Earth that people actually like and admire. Unfortunately, mankind's beloved butterfly has fallen on hard times on the continent of Europe. According to a new study from Butterfly Conservation Europe, grassland butterfly populations have declined by 70 percent in the last 20 years.

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Butterfly decline is also a problem in other parts of the world. Examples include the giant swallowtail of Jamaica, the Atewa dotted border from Ghana, and the Oregon silverspot in the Pacific Northwest. In Europe, a "Red List of Butterflies" has been created to identify and keep track of all species of butterflies from Iceland in the west to the Ural Mountains in the east, and from Franz Josef Land in the north, and south to the Canary Islands.

The "Red List" takes account of the 482 butterfly species in Europe. Nine percent are considered threatened, and a further 10 percent are near threatened. Only four percent of species are actually increasing their populations.

The recent study from Butterfly Conservation Europe used data from 3,000 sites in 15 countries. Researchers concluded that the main cause of population decline was the switch from small sustainable agriculture was being replaced by industrial farming. Large-scale industrial farming does not leave any open spaces along the periphery which contain flower-filled meadows where butterflies thrive.

When people first cleared land for hay production and raising livestock, the butterfly population flourished. This is how most of Europe's grasslands were formed. Now, with the abandonment of these traditional practices and overgrazing by livestock, butterflies have suffered.

Areas of most concern are Eastern Europe, where small-scale agriculture has fallen, and mountainous regions such as the Pyrenees, which are traditionally home to large butterfly populations. The researchers attributed most of the losses to the decline in grasslands on the continent. They also say this can be linked to declines in bees, spiders, birds, and several types of plants.

Butterflies require very specific foods and habitats to flourish. Being so sensitive, they make good indicators of a healthy ecosystem. Losing them would be horrible for mankind, not only because we think they look nice. They also play important roles in their ecosystem through their pollination activities.

Link to Butterfly Conservation Europe: http://www.bc-europe.org/category.asp?catid=14

Link to the European Butterfly Red List: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/conservation/species/redlist/downloads/European_butterflies.pdf

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