Are Czech butterflies disappearing due to farming and forestry (mis)management or climate change?

Clouded Apollo (Jasoň dymnivkový), photo: Algirdas / CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists warn that some butterfly species are disappearing from the Czech countryside at an alarming rate. But opinion is divided as to the root cause. Some see it as a stemming from intensive farming and forest mismanagement on the local level. Others believe global climate change is to blame.

Clouded Apollo  (Jasoň dymnivkový),  photo: Algirdas / CC BY-SA 3.0
Researchers at the Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences blame the disappearance of protected butterfly species on the state company charged with managing the nation’s 1.2 million hectares of forests.

They say that company, Lesy České republiky, has failed to properly regulate commercial logging and maintain fields and floodplains in designated Protected Landscapes with delicate ecosystems.

Vladimír Krchov, the company’s Director of Forestry and Water Management vehemently rejects the claim.

“While some may follow developments regarding a particular species, we as foresters are looking after entire ecosystems. So our work is not just about one particular species. Inherent to our management approach is to look after the general ecosystem, and that’s what we are doing.”

Lesy České republiky spokesperson Eva Jouklová says the company is well aware of the importance of forest ecosystems in preserving biodiversity. The dwindling butterfly population she says, rather results from drought and mismanagement of the planet – in other words, from climate change.

“When there is not enough water, there are no plants, there are no butterflies and other insects and animals dependent upon specific vegetation. There is simply not enough water, and irrigating meadows is just not feasible.”

Biologist David Storch of Charles University is among those who say the main cause lies not in the management of forests and protected habitats, though it is a factor. He argues it rather stems from intensive large-scale agriculture, including the use of pesticides, which have wiped out hectares of pastures and wetlands off the map.

Illustrative photo: Ewald Schnug,  CC BY-SA 4.0
“Industrial-scale agriculture is the biggest problem in terms of biodiversity. It’s a global issue not just a problem of our own making or that only we are facing. It stems from a worldwide change in farming practices in the 1960s and 1970s, in particular the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and the changing ‘mosaic’ of the countryside. There is precious little space between vast agricultural fields. And this affects butterflies, stag beetles and other insects.”

Dr Storch went on to cite a German study which found that over the past quarter-century, that neighbouring country’s insect population has dropped by three-quarters, mainly due to the expansion of agricultural land.

Invertebrates are especially vulnerable to rapid changes in landscape due to their short life-cycles. Czech scientists say among the butterfly species now most at risk is the Clouded Apollo. Known in Czech as Jasoň dymnivkový, the swallowtail butterfly thrives in flowering meadows. It is longer found in Bohemia, and exceedingly rare in Moravia.