Monday, February 8, 2010

Conservation from space: Landscape diversity helps to conserve butterflies

Centre for Hydrology & Ecology (UK): Rugged, hilly landscapes with a range of different habitat types can help maintain more stable butterfly populations and thus aid their conservation, according to new findings published in the journal Ecology Letters. The research, carried out by scientists from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Butterfly Conservation and the University of York, has implications for how we might design and manage landscapes better to help conserve species.

The scientists used UK Land Cover Map data (from satellite images) to collect information on the topography and diversity of habitats in the landscape. They found that sites with a greater diversity of habitat types (eg woodland, grassland, heathland) and more varied terrain tended to have butterfly populations that were more stable over time.

These more diverse landscapes may provide a broader range of environments, and hence resources and microclimates, which can buffer species against a variety of climatic extremes and potential population decline in difficult years.

Thirty-five British butterfly species were included in the analysis using records collected by volunteers of the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme from 166 transect sites across the UK. The research team compared the stability of butterfly populations over an 11-year period with the diversity of habitats in the surrounding landscape up to 5km from monitored sites.

They concluded that landscapes with a greater range of habitats harboured more stable butterfly populations. In addition, landscapes with a greater range of topographic aspect (eg north, south, east and west facing slopes) were also better for the insects….

Northern brown argus butterfly, shot by Velela, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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