Europe's Grassland Butterfly Species In Alarming Decline

orange tip butterfly photo

Photo by andy.v via Flickr Creative Commons

Butterflies are one of the major pollinators and a vital component to a functioning ecosystem. We've seen dips in butterfly populations worldwide, and the latest report from Butterfly Conservation Europe is that 17 species of grassland butterflies are in a dramatic decline across Europe, with as much as a 70% drop in numbers over the last 20 years. The loss of butterflies means a loss of flower-rich meadows, which could have a trickle effect impacting mammals, birds and other species. The Guardian reports, "The dramatic decline in butterfly numbers indicates a wider loss of biodiversity, with other insects such as bumblebees, hoverflies, spiders and moths, as well as many plants and birds, disappearing along with the loss of traditional grassland."

Butterfly Conservation states that more sustainable farming practices could go a long way in bringing back the numbers of these important species, as the grasslands that are home to the butterflies have been overgrazed or turned into farmland. Martin Warren, chief executive of Butterfly Conservation (UK), points out that environmentally sustainable farming practices don't get government assistance, whereas intensified farming does -- it's an example of when agricultural economics ignore the long-term life of an area.

Earlier in the year we pointed out that butterflies are being hit from two angles -- not just a loss of habitat due to human development and agriculture, but also the effects of climate change. A difference in seasons, with flowers blooming earlier, or a need to move habitats to higher elevations to escape warmer temperatures lower down are pushing butterfly species to the edge.

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