Environment / Wildlife

The decreasing butterfly effect

Who doesn’t love these flying gemstones? Butterflies are the symbol of joy and happiness, their beautiful colours add highlights to our often grey-seeming world, and they help nature and humans alike. But environmental changes threaten this wonderful species.


Worldwide there are more than 180,000 different kinds of butterflies with about 700 new discoveries a year. Alone in Europe there are more than 10,000 kinds. All of them have a huge impact on nature.

Farmers and hobby gardeners alike can confirm the importance of butterflies: By visiting flowers and blossoms these little helpers increase the crops. Some plants, like orchids, can only be dusted by the long probosces of butterflies, and thus, they conserve many plant species.

But now, the conservers themselves are in need of conservation. Environmental pollution, climate changes, and shrinking living spaces have shown their impacts on the numbers of insects. The Butterfly Conservation Europe has monitored butterflies since 1976 in respect to different indicators. The European grassland butterfly indicator for example is based on 17 grassland butterfly kinds. In their recent report the BC Europe state,

The most recent update (1990-2009) showed that grassland butterflies have declined by almost 70% since 1990.


About 54% of the butterfly species in Europe have declined over the past decade. Richard Fox, from the British Butterfly Conservation Society, stated in an interview by The Yorker,

It’s particularly alarming that numbers of butterflies which are quite well adapted to living in a landscape that’s highly modified by human management have decreased by nearly a quarter over a 10 year period.

The climate change has also forced butterflies to change their habitats, but they cannot keep up with the pace, as a report by the BC Europe indicates:

The Climate Change Indicator shows that butterfly communities have shifted northwards by an equivalent of 75 km in 20 years, whereas the temporal trend in temperature has shifted north by 246 km, showing that butterflies are lagging significantly behind climate change.

Indeed, everyone agrees butterflies are precious little things. But,besides that, why should we care that much about them?IMG_7133

Butterfly are insects and these animals make up 50% of all species on earth. In contrast to most other insects, butterflies can be documented easily. Butterflies and their caterpillars use all kinds of niches in ecosystems, they often need very specific habitats, for example for laying eggs, and they have several generations per year. For these reasons they are very sensitive to environmental changes.

The wellbeing of butterflies is also linked to other species, since they need certain plants for their survival, but on the other hand also conserve species. Thus, their appearance serves as an indicator for plants and other animals. The decreasing number of butterflies is a sign that there is also something wrong with other species – plants and animals.

The EU launched a Biodiversity Strategy to halt decreasing butterfly effect and degrading ecosystems by 2020.


For more information about the situation of butterflies and how you can help visit butterfly-conservation.org

or have a look at the report by the BC Europe:

Van Swaay, C.A.M. & Warren, M.S. (2012) Developing butterflies as indicators in Europe: current situation and future options. De Vlinderstichting/Dutch Butterfly Conservation, Butterfly Conservation UK, Butterfly Conservation Europe, Wageningen, reportnr. VS2012.012.

Text and photos by Julia Thiemann.


One thought on “The decreasing butterfly effect

  1. Pingback: Orange Sulphur Butterfly | Winged Beauty

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