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The butterfly as a marker for environmental damage
A European research group recently developed a new system to measure the health status of ecosystems. Here, diurnal butterflies play a special role because the moths are very sensitive to changes in the state of our ecosystems. The new insect monitoring system is to record and scientifically evaluate the development of butterflies throughout Europe.
Researchers at the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research (UFZ) recently presented a new network that can be used to measure insect populations. With this procedure it is possible to make concrete statements about the insect loss and the state of European ecosystems. The project first evaluates the state of the butterfly population, which is considered to play a key role due to its sensitivity. Basically, the method can be applied to all types of insects.
Constantly declining butterfly population
The EU project ABLE (Assessing ButterfLies in Europe) started at the beginning of 2019 with the aim of capturing and scientifically evaluating Europe-wide trends in the development of butterflies. This is intended to provide tangible evidence that should also support environmental decisions at the political level. Because since 2005 the UFZ has noticed a massive decline in butterflies. Extensive insect mortality is also spreading among other insects.
The key role of butterflies
According to the UFZ team, butterflies are particularly well suited to assess the condition of ecosystems, as they are important pollinators and a significant part of the food chain, and they are particularly sensitive to changes in the ecosystem. Ecologists have long used them as model organisms to study the effects of habitat loss, fragmentation, land use change and climate change. Because in butterfly-rich areas there are always a large number of other invertebrates, according to the UFZ researchers.
Reliable data for insect loss
"This project, with its Europe-wide standardized procedure for monitoring butterflies, is a prime example of how reliable data for science, politics and society should be collected in times of insect loss," explains Professor Dr. Josef Settele from the ABLE team in a press release on the start of the project.
A network against insect death
The butterfly population in eleven EU countries is currently being recorded, with eight more EU countries in southern and eastern Europe to follow. The data is collected with the help of thousands of volunteers. All information comes together in the ABLE network and is evaluated there.
Can the butterfly influence environmental policies?
"Butterflies are important indicators for assessing policies at the EU level," reports Anne Teller from the EU's Environment Directorate General. She welcomes the pilot project and hopes for increased involvement of volunteer supporters. (vb)
Can insect mortality be stopped at all?
Bee deaths: causes, distribution and consequences