Come together – my impression from an international symposium on butterflies

I have just returned from an international symposium on butterflies, called ‘The future of butterflies in Europe’, which was organized by the Dutch foundation ‘Vlinderstichting’ for the protection of butterflies. Entomologists, Lepidopterists and butterfly activists exchanged their experiences, shared their research findings and connected with each other. For me, this meeting was a very inspiring and interesting, but also alarming.

Stronger declines were reported especially for unspecialized and common butterfly species, which have not received sufficient attention in the past years. But also some successes of protection activities were reported from several case studies or monitoring activities throughout Europe: some endangered species showed slower declines or more stable populations than anticipated, and some smaller restoration activities even led to re-colonization by several sensitive species. However, the overall trend for butterflies in Europe appeared to be much the same almost everywhere: negative.

Many extinction processes in Western Europe might have occurred already decades ago. In our case study region, the central Transylvanian Tableland, we still find an immense species richness of butterflies. They might have survived during the last century due to the fact that small scale structures are still present in the landscape today and create a heterogeneous and rich environment. As Dennis et al. already argued in 2005, we have to define the concept of habitat differently for butterflies, because many species don’t only rely on one type of environment – they use different landscape structures to meet their needs for shelter, food, and a suitable microclimate. Therefore, heterogeneity in a landscape is invaluable. Also, these structures lead to a richness of vascular plants that is much higher in our study region than in many other European countries, hence certain host plant species are likely to be present and therefore enable the presence of many butterflies.

photo by: J. Loos

At the symposium, I presented the aims of our research project and in particular, I focused on the aims of my own research on butterflies at a landscape scale – connecting the effects of land use to the species richness distribution of butterflies and plants. Unfortunately, we cannot rely on data or long-term observations, because there has not been any butterfly monitoring scheme established in Romania so far. Hopefully, our research project will contribute to the application of a monitoring scheme and hopefully, we will be able to motivate Romanian people to volunteer for such a scheme. Maybe we have already achieved a first step into that direction, because other researchers from the conference came to me and willingly offered to contribute their butterfly datasets, which they had collected several years ago during short trips through Transylvania.

I was impressed by the openness of these scientists and by other butterfly-friends, who came to me after my presentation and saw possibilities for collaboration on this topic. Many people showed a massive interest for Transylvania and stated that they would like to travel there. Promoting eco-tourism might be one of the ways how the region might benefit from its unique and beautiful landscapes. Also, school activities and exchanges might help to raise awareness of the environmental changes going on.

Romania and the rest of Europe complement each other in many ways: Whereas British NGOs are spending vast amounts of money to restore small patches of adequate habitat for endangered butterflies, species-rich parcels of unused grasslands are sold to foreign investors. However, Romania has not yet lost as many important refuges for butterflies (and other species) as most Western European Countries. To protect these species-rich areas, action is needed now, while Romania is facing rapid land use changes. Martin Warren concluded in his talk that ‘the cheapest solution to protect species is to maintain its habitat before it is being destroyed’.

I am very lucky to be able to contribute to a useful project, which might also bring benefits to the target region I am working in. Of course, collaboration with local partners must be the core goal, otherwise a long-time solution for butterflies is not feasible. I am aware that Romanian people and Romania´s government have a lot of things to do at the moment. New legislations and new challenges characterize the slow drift from an agrarian society towards a new type of society – and life can be tough in these times. I wish Romania was no longer seen as a poor country – because it contains a richness, which is unattainable with all the money in the world: its pristine wildlife. I wish that this treasure can be saved by common interest from the European society.

With a good network of knowledge exchange, common volunteer activities and the financial support from European stakeholders, I hope we will be able to support the long-term survival of Romania´s threatened biodiversity. The opportunity to join the meeting of Butterfly Conservation Europe group boosted my confidence that scientific and personal exchange can raise new ways of collaboration on a larger level, which have not been thought about before.

My sincere thanks to all my colleagues who supported my attendance at this useful and inspiring symposium.

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