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Swedish meadowlands, a haven for Europe's butterflies

Heath Fritillary

Heath Fritillary. Photo: K-O Bergman

Former pasturelands in Östergötland County are excellent biotopes for butterflies. Many species now extinct in Belgium, Germany and Great Britain have found a safe haven. But the prime Swedish habitat is under siege by the rationalization of farming methods.

"Sweden has a considerable responsibility for protecting these species and habitats. If the agricultural trend is not reined in, Europe may lose some of its most species-dense biotopes," says Karl-Olof Bergman, researcher in conservation biology at LiU.

In the latest issue of Biodiversity and Conservation, Karl-Olof Berggren and his colleagues published their comprehensive study of 60 pasturelands in Östergötland County. During five inventories carried out between May and September 2004, field researchers sighted 17 153 butterflies of 64 species, several of which face extinction in Western Europe.

The Heath Fritillary (Melitaea athalia), which inhabited all locales of the Swedish study, has completely disappeared from Belgian Flanders and is seriously depopulated in western Germany and Great Britain. The High Brown Fritillary (Argynnis adippe), which was sighted in 65 percent of the Swedish meadows, has almost completely disappeared from the three other countries.

The meadowland biotopes in the study are sized between three and eight hectares, with stands of deciduous trees and surrounded by conifers. This is a vanishing landscape in much of western Europe. Even in Sweden, the decline of small-scale farming with grazing livestock poses a serious threat.

The project is described in an online edition of Biodiversity and Conservation. Title: Importance of boreal grasslands in Sweden for butterfly diversity and effects of local and landscape habitat factors. Authors: Karl-Olof Bergman, Lena Ask, John Askling, Håkan Ignell, Henrik Wahlman och Per Milberg.


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Last updated: 2009-06-03