Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Butterflies act as wildlife indicators, warning us of ecosystem changes

Faye Dobson in Environment News Network via the Ecologist: Although butterflies may seem like an attractive addition to your flower garden they are a more important insect than most people realize. Acting as a vital wildlife indicator, butterflies can tell us almost everything we need to know about the health of an ecosystem. But from the Meadow Brown to the Swallowtail, British native butterfly species are slowly disappearing.

According to a report by the Dorset-based charity Butterfly Conservation, 72 per cent of butterfly and moth species have declined in the last ten years, and 54 per cent have decreased in the UK. Even the abundance of common garden butterflies, such as the Red Admiral, has dropped by 24 per cent.

Butterflies react extremely quickly to even minor changes in the environment, making them both a good indicator of biodiversity and providing an early warning system for other reductions in wildlife. As a result, they are now the best-monitored group of insects in the world.

A decline in butterflies would also have a knock-on effect on other British species, in particular birds such as blue tits, jays and sparrows.

Stephen Dickie, head keeper explains: "Birds plan their whole breeding season around when caterpillars will be most abundant. If the butterfly and caterpillar numbers are depleted then there's not going to be a lot of food for developing chicks."

Plants will also be affected. Butterflies are a major pollinator of both wild and cultivated plants. Without them and other important pollinating insects flying around, there will be a significant decline in viable seed produced.....

Plate XVI from Europas bekannteste Schmetterlinge. Beschreibung der wichtigsten Arten und Anleitung zur Kenntnis und zum Sammeln der Schmetterlinge und Raupen (ca. 1895), F. Nemos, Oestergaard Verlag, Berlin, 18 chromolithographische Tafeln, 160 pp. By Dr. F. Nemos. Public domain

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